Calling the Department of Transportation is far less painful than managing a breakup over the phone, I can assure you of that. Or, at least, it should be.

I asked two of our members who are pros for their advice on getting answers from the DOT. Rhiannon Bowman, a freelance journalist in Charlotte, N.C., and Trent Larson, an IT director in West Bountiful, Utah, don't settle for "no" or "I don't know." Here are their suggestions.

* Be kind, not demanding. Definitely don’t begin by stamping your feet. Most public servants are happy to help. (Rhianna)

* Remember people’s names and then use them. (“Hi, John.” “Thank you, John.”) (Rhianna)

* Be prepared: Before you call, make sure the answer isn’t already available on the department Web site. (Rhianna)

* Prepare your questions with any relevant numbers and data on hand. (Trent)

* It helped me to be on a computer where I could look up things, so when they say, "Go to the Web site and click XYZ," I could see it and probe some more (or ask them to repeat it many times). (Trent)

* I wrote down notes as we talked. (Trent)

* Don’t assume the person you are speaking with has the answers you seek. Ask, “John, can you help me with this, or can you direct me to someone who can?” (Rhianna) I filled out an online form for information, and they got back to me about a week later with some good information about contractors, etc.  It helps to try multiple avenues. (Trent)

* Be thankful. Remember, the person on the other end of the line was busy working on something else when they answered your call. Be patient and give them a minute to catch up. (Rhianna)

* And, of course, in the South, we begin and end most conversations with niceties: “How are you today?” “What are you and your family doing this weekend?” (Rhianna)

* There is a chance you and your DOT contact person will chat quite a bit over the next many months, so take time to develop a friendly, professional relationship with them. (Rhianna)


Got more? E-mail me and I'll add them to the list.