I hear horror stories all the time about bad experiences with service providers such as plumbers, electricians and the like. I find it hard to believe that there can be so many tradespeople 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 a mechanic 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 the assumption that this person — presumably a professional — is inclined to take pride in his or her work. Are all service providers competent? Of course not. Neither are all stockbrokers, politicians, medical providers, bankers, retailers … you get the idea. But when you automatically presume that everyone is an idiot, they will sense your mistrust. Your suspicions 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 by lying to everyone? Wouldn’t somebody have figured it out by now?
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 honest and competent until or unless they show themselves to be otherwise. If you think this is naïve, I’m going to bet that you’re rarely satisfied with the quality of work done by the people you hire. In your mind, they’re all untrustworthy, and, of course, you’re always displeased. You drive their best abilities away 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 all 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: They treat people with respect, and it gets results.
To be fair, I think most of us get a little fearful when dealing with unfamiliar things like electrical wiring, new roofs or remodeling. 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 some 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 deal with tradespeople? 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 called 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. So, when it comes time to build, fix or remodel things, it’s in your interest to do your hiring with a little respect and a smile.
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