Grease the wheels with a little respect

It’s a rare day when social media is not sputtering over horror stories about bad experiences with service providers. Since it’s my job to peek behind the proverbial curtain, when I look closer at some of the individual situations, sure enough: I begin to see a pattern. Many of these complainers seem to clash with everyone they hire. They’re distrustful and generally suspicious that people are “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?

When hiring somebody to perform work for you, the key is to start with 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 and retailers. But when you automatically presume that, people sense your mistrust through your behavior. When they react, your suspicions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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?” If you don’t, it’s going to show in your attitude. 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”; assuming that people are competent until 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 stupid, and, of course, you’re displeased as a result. You drive away their best abilities with your negative attitude. There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.

I like to seek out success stories. I know a handful of people who achieve a great deal of success in getting contracting, repair, 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 electrical wiring, putting on new roofs or remodeling bathrooms. The fear gets amplified if you’re managing the maintenance of a second home from 3 or 4 hours away. But that’s no excuse for unfairness or irrationality. 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 tradespeople? Simple: Treat them the way you want to be treated. Give them credit for knowing something you don’t know. Ask questions ahead of time. Don’t worry about appearing stupid. Use humor when possible, and show that you care about their needs. “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 victim. This stranger doesn’t owe you anything. If he’s truly 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 and suggests that that person is your servant. Would you like to be treated that way? When it comes time to build, fix or remodel, it’s in your own interest to do your hiring with respect, a bit of patience and a smile.


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