A little respect can help get things done

I hear horror stories all the time about bad experiences with service providers such as plumbers, electricians, contractors, mechanics and the like. I find it hard to believe that there can be so many trades people out there who are rude and/or routinely do shoddy work. And, sure enough, when I look closer at some of the individual situations, I begin to see a pattern. Many of these complainers seem to clash with everyone they hire. They’re distrustful and generally suspicious that everyone is ‘out to get them.’ Imagine if you were an electrician, carpenter or the like and somebody treated you as ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Would YOU be motivated to do your best work?

I think the key is to start with a little respect and the assumption that this person—presumably a professional—is inclined to take pride in his or her work. Are all service providers honest and competent? Of course not. Neither are all stockbrokers, politicians, medical providers, bankers, retailers’the list goes on and on. But when you automatically presume that everyone is an idiot and/or wants to cheat you, they will sense your mistrust through your attitude and behavior. Your suspicions can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let’s assume that the service provider has earned a measure of success and makes a decent living from his or her trade. Do you think that could have been achieved—over the long term—by lying to everyone? Wouldn’t somebody have figured it out by now?

As a consumer, you have to make certain decisions before hiring someone. Of course, there’s cost, experience, reputation, and so forth. But you also have to make an emotional decision as well. ‘Am I going to start out trusting this person or not?’ It may sound strange, but this is how emotions work. If you don’t trust the person you’re hiring, it’s going to show in your attitude and tone of voice. If you act like he’s a suspicious character who’s lucky to be working for you, you’re going to instill a certain kind of motivation in him. If you treat him like he’s someone who possesses a skill that you need, and wants to do a good job—and, yes, get paid in the process—then you’re going to encourage an entirely different kind of motivation.

In a court of law, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It’s an approach that applies to all of life. Some call it ‘benevolence,’ meaning that you assume people are reasonable, honest and competent until or unless they show themselves to be otherwise. If you think this is naïve, I suspect that you’re rarely satisfied with the quality of work done by the people you hire. In your mind, they’re all untrustworthy and stupid, and, of course, you’re displeased as a result. You drive away their best abilities by your attitude. That’s what I mean by ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’

In figuring out how to do things better, I like to seek out success stories. I know a handful of people who achieve a great deal of success in getting contracting, remodeling and similar sorts of work done for them in a timely, competent manner. Some of this means finding the most skilled workers and being willing to pay a little more. But as I observe these examples in practice, I discover a very simple principle: Treating people with respect gets results.

To be fair, I think most of us get a little fearful when dealing with unfamiliar things such as electrical wiring, putting on new roofs or remodeling kitchens or bathrooms. The fear gets amplified if you’re managing the maintenance of a second home from 3 or 4 hours away. But that’s still no excuse for being unfair or irrational. I admit that I know less about certain mechanical things than lots of people. That doesn’t make me naïve and overly trusting, but I do try to inspire good will and confidence in the people I hire so that both our lives can be better.

So how do you handle the process of dealing with trades people? Simple: Treat them the way you want to be treated. Give them credit for knowing something you don’t. Ask questions ahead of time, before the work begins. Don’t worry about appearing stupid. Use humor when possible, and show that you care about their needs too. ‘I know you must be busy. What time is realistic for you?’ If you don’t get calls back right away, don’t become an angry or whiny victim. This stranger doesn’t owe you anything. If he’s competent, then he’s probably just too busy. Move on and find somebody else.

Being a victim is the worst thing you can convey when doing business. It implies a sense of entitlement prior to any agreement being made. It suggests that the person is your servant. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be treated that way—well, neither does anyone else. So, when it comes time to build, fix or remodel things, it’s in your own interest to keep that in mind.