Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I'm Not Interested in Your Convenience

This is currently on my nerves because I've run into its mis-use twice in the last day: the term "at my earliest convenience." It doesn't mean what you (well, not YOU necessarily, but some people) think it means.

In polite conversation, the term is used when you are requesting that someone help you who isn't really obligated to do so. You're requesting something from them, and you're being nice about it. They are well within their rights to say no, but you really hope they don't. For instance, "I believe I am qualified for this job and have enclosed my resume' for your review. Please contact me at your earliest convenience so we can further discuss how my skills would be an asset to your business." That is a correct usage of the phrase.

However recently, I have seen it used by people to refer to themselves. As in, "One of our representatives will get back to you at their earliest convenience." This is from a company I'm paying for a service, so let me be perfectly clear: I don't give a crap about their 'convenience.' I want them to call me as soon as they possibly can, whether it's 'convenient' for them or not.

See, what's happening is that the word "convenience" is, for some reason I cannot fathom, being substituted for the word "opportunity." They are not synonymous, however. The phrase "at your earliest convenience" has a wealth of implied meaning, including, "if it's not too much trouble; at such a time that it pleases you; I recognize that I am not the most important person you need to deal with, and that you have other work that takes precedence, but I am humbly requesting that you contact me if you can possibly find the time and the benevolence to do so; etc." The correct phrase, "at your earliest opportunity" infers none of that. It simply means, "As soon as you possibly can." It is admittedly more polite than "IMMEDIATELY," which obviously signifies either that the situation is an emergency, that you're extremely angry with the level of service you're receiving, or that you feel you're entitled to a response right away. That's an order of magnitude higher, though.

The problem really is that it's arrogant and presumptuous and, frankly, rude to use the phrase "at my earliest convenience" to refer to oneself. Because of the connotations, it's reversing the level of politeness that the phrase infers when used to deal with someone else from whom you are asking a boon. Instead, it makes it clear that whomever you're speaking with is unimportant, not worthy of a quick response, and that you'll contact them when and if you feel like it. In both of the situations where I encountered it (a customer service web page and a voicemail), I'm pretty confident that the speaker didn't mean to say, "You're just a customer, so screw you," but maybe they did.

But assuming that's not what YOU mean, dear reader, please cease the use of this phrase to refer to yourself... at your earliest convenience.


  1. Sorry, I don't have time right now, but I'll read this at my earliest convenience.

  2. I hate it when stores, etc., say they are doing something for my convenience. Example: "For your convenience, we have moved Customer Service to the back of the store." Hey! It was more convenient for me when it was at the front of the store.

  3. Dave - I never seem to be in a position to do so easily (I don't remember where I heard the vmail - it might have been on TV or something. It wasn't me directly. And the other thing was from a website.) but I'm just waiting for the chance to tell somebody off about it. :D

    John - yeah, I hate that, too. It's marketing doublespeak. Doubleplusungood.