About me

Monday, December 7, 2009

We have to be smarter than they are

Some eons ago, I was whining in my yearly personnel review that the folks in the other building were so difficult. As a researcher, I needed the other peeps to provide information so I could keep my projects on target and on time. What I was receiving was endless excuses for missing meetings, ignoring meeting requests, not responding to email, and otherwise ignoring me.

My boss at the time was one of the wisest women I have ever known. She knew people inside and out, she knew how to approach them, she knew what to say and when, she didn't suffer fools well, and I had a lot to learn from her.

She put her notebook down. She twiddled and watched her pen. She inhaled and spoke.

Jim, we have to be smarter than they are.

I winced over the uncharacteristic hubris in that comment and wondered what she really meant.

As she explained, the dawn approached. We have to use what we know to get what we need from the people who have it and who will willingly give it if we can set the stage such that they can do so.

We have to adapt our communications to fit with theirs. We have to provide information that fits with they way they are going to process that information. We have to observe their schedules and find a time that works for them, not so much that we don't interrupt the day's activities, but more that our "quick" question, and we rarely have quick questions, doesn't interrupt the thinking going on that day.

We have to do everything we can based on everything we know to help those other people help us.

It's not that they are being difficult. They are just doing their jobs. It's not that we are being Machevallian, however that's spelled. We're just helping the both of us do our jobs.

This is why we study. This is why we read all the books. This is why we learn to observe people.

Here's a minor example. I was in Chicago sitting in my hotel catching up on email waiting to head out for my flight to China. The phone rings. In the conversation, the realization comes that I'm confused about the time and the schedule.

I need to be at the airport NOW!

I teleport to O'Hare, sort of check-in due to being late, clear security, and find the gate, only to see 800 people in line ahead of me. I also know that my precious bulkhead row is now up for grabs because of my late check-in.

I am doomed.

I step to the right of the line, furrow my brow, and march to the desk where I'm greeted by a gate agent. These people received very little respect. In my ever-so-natural southern drawl but with perfect diction for her Asian ears, I mentioned my problem, and asked what I needed to do to get on the plane and preferably sit in my original seat.

She smiled, took my paperwork, and 30 seconds later, I was set to go, all as originally planned.

Now, this is no miracle in Terminal C. It was just someone with a problem using what was before him to solve that problem. Would it work the next time? I don't know, and I don't hope to ever find out. Do I recognize the correct approach for every problem before me? Let me assure you that I do not. Knowing what to do is different than doing it.

It's just sometimes I get lucky, I suppose. Of course, I did send my ex-boss a thank-you note for the tutelage rendered freely so many years ago.

-- text tapped from a virtual keyboard.

Location:Westgrove St,Raleigh,United States

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