Being an Effective Gatekeeper

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Assistants are gatekeepers. It is your job to save your manager the time and hassle of distractions. These may be preventing sales calls or weeding unnecessary information. Being a gatekeeper requires you to be savvy and develop the ability to see through tricks. 

Filtering Data and Information

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Filtering data and information is part of your job. You need to determine what your manager needs to see and know and what is unimportant. For example, you do not need to pass along a sales catalogue. In order to know what information is important, you need to understand your manager’s interests, goals, who are essential to projects, and the names of family members. When determining whether or not to pass along information, you need to ask a few qualifying questions. The exact qualifying questions you ask will depend on your company and your manager, but you can begin with some general questions.


  • Is this important?
  • Is the manager the only one to handle this?
  • Is it relevant to goals?
  • Can I address this myself?
  • Is the source reliable?

After you determine what needs to be seen and what does not, your manager will not have to wade through useless information or distracting requests.

Learn to Say No

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Part of your job as gatekeeper is to say “no.” Your manager’s time is valuable, and many people will try to make appointments when none are available. They will call to distract your manager throughout the day. Sales associates are trained to get past gatekeepers, but you cannot allow them access. No matter how hard people try, you need to say “no.” You do not need to be rude; you can offer to take a message if someone is insistent. Sales associates will occasionally attempt to sell to the assistant directly and befriend them. If this occurs, you need to explain that you do not make such decisions and explain that you will take a message. 

Dealing with Difficult People

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Every assistant has to deal with difficult people. Conflict is sometimes unavoidable, but it is sure to appear when you practice saying “no” and preventing people from reaching their objectives. When difficult people present themselves, you need to repress your fight or flight response and engage in conversation.

Handling difficult people:

  • Speak assertively: A passive tone indicates that you are uncertain. Be assertive but respectful.
  • Address the request: Make it clear that you are rejecting the request but not the individual.
  • Avoid sarcasm: Do not use sarcasm, and address it when it is used against you.
  • Restate: Restate the problem in a different way for another point of view.
  • Compromise: You need to be willing to compromise in certain cases.

Occasionally, difficult people may become dangerous. If you feel threatened, do not hesitate to call security.

Recognize the Tricks

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People train and write articles about tricks they used to get past gatekeepers. Sales calls and other interruptions will not always be obvious; people will try to trick you. You must familiarize yourself with common tricks so that you can recognize them.


  • They will use the manager’s first name and give the impression that they are friends.
  • They will not volunteer information about why they call, hoping you will let them through.
  • They will be assumptive and not ask to be transferred to the manager.
  • They will say that they have important news that affects the manager.
  • They will use your first name and try to befriend you with multiple phone calls.

There are many more tricks besides the ones listed. Research additional tricks and share stories with other assistants.

Case Study

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Sherri was comfortable fielding sales calls. She caught tricks every day, saving her manager the hassle of high-pressured cold calls. One day, Tom called and asked to speak to Jim. Jim was her manager and Tom was his brother. Sherri had never spoken to Tom before, but he was on a list of approved names that Jim gave her, so she transferred the call. After a few minutes, Jim called her and told her to be more careful screening his calls. The Tom on this call was not his brother but a sales representative. It was the first time that anyone managed to get past Sherri.