Thoughts: A Comedy of Deafness

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So, a few of you e-mailed and messaged me, asking where I have been the past few days. It seems you worry about me when I don’t write for a few days. That’s very sweet but I am fine. I have however, had an interesting few days……

Sunday, after church, I picked up my daughter and headed to Buffalo for an early birthday present. We went to a DCI International competition. DCI International is the marching band equivalent of the NFL – professional marching band and flag teams that travel and compete nationally and internationally. If you have kids in a marching band, ask them about DCI. They’ll know. Don’t be surprised if their faces glow as they talk about it. These guys are magically good.

I had two kids in marching bands while they were in high school, and that experience has given me a real appreciation for the artistry and hard work it takes to do these shows. It’s near the end of the season for them, with just a couple of weeks before the national championships so the shows are honed and near perfect. So we high tailed it across New York, caught the show, crashed in a Buffalo hotel and then took of earlyish so my daughter could get back to work late Monday afternoon.

Ah, the best laid plans…..

An hour or so into the trip, just outside Rochester, we stopped for a badly needed cup of coffee. Serious hi octane needed. I was going to put the top down because the AC had been wonky. So we got our fix and got in the car and…. it wouldn’t start. There had been no hint of a problem. Just done. A couple of turns of the crank and done.

No issue. I have triple A. One tow truck later we are in a shop that could look at my car immediately. When we got to the shop, they looked at me like “What are we supposed to be doing?” But look at it they did, puzzling and throwing out hypothesis after hypothesis, running from a bad battery to a timing chain running amok and tearing my motor apart. Each time they came to me and said “It might be….”, they would ask me what I wanted to do. How could I tell them? It was all guess work and they didn’t have any real information for me.

Eventually, it became clear that they had no idea and we were not driving out of there that day. They took me to a rental car place. (Not the one they said they were taking me to, but another 20 miles further out). I got a car and blew my way back to Vermont so my daughter to finish out her shift closing the inn. On the way back I got a call. They had found the issue. The alternator had locked up. They would have it for me Tuesday.

So Tuesday, I blew west again. I am almost to western New York when they call again. “Have you left to come here?”

“Yes. I am almost there.”

“Oh man. Oh man.” He sounded like a worried Ross the Intern from the old Leno show.

“What?”

“It’s not the alternator. It’s the AC Compressor.”

“OK. So get one.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

Up to this point, I had been my preacherly nice self, but I had been run around for two days, was lacking in sleep and rest, and went all firm on him. “I will be there in 30 minutes. I expect to drive my own car home.”

Well, they got it done, although not before there was a set of keystone cop mishaps. I left there about 2:30. Put my top down and enjoyed the six-hour drive, and thought over the past day or two. At first, I have to admit, I thought I had been dealing with idiots. Certainly, they gave all the evidence of being just plain stupid. From the Triple A driver to the service writer to the mechanic to the driver who carted me to the rental car place, no one seemed to be able to do the simplest thing. I was having one of those “what’s in the water around here?” moments.

But time and thinking brings perspective. What we had here was not a comedy of errors. It was a comedy of not listening. When I talked to the triple A dispatcher, she did not listen, or listened and did not relay the information to the driver, who had no idea what I needed when he got there. When the driver called the repair shop, he either did not listen to what said, or just didn’t relay it so the service writer didn’t have a clue what was going on. When I talked to the service writer, he never told the mechanic that the AC had stopped working. So the guy never looked for the AC compressor, when, had person A listened and shared with person B, all the way down the line, the AC would have been the first thing looked at, not the last, a day later.

No one listened. No one shared. The cost: A day’s work and one day’s rental car, not to mention the never ending suspense of what the problem might have been. (They had me thinking I was going to need a new engine half way through the process).

Don’t get me wrong. Every one was nice. Everyone wanted to be helpful. They were trying hard. In the end, because they felt so badly, they waived the labor costs. But a lack of listening turned a nuisance into a nightmare. And cost everyone money.

I see this all the time. I have come to the conclusion that 90% of the problems in the world are not problems as much as they are problems caused because everyone is talking and no one is listening. I used to preach this to my employees. I preach it to my corporate clients. Listening is a secret weapon for success, rarely used.

Just the other day I had an amazing conversation with a telemarketing who insisted, absolutely insisted, that I was a nursing home. I am 62 and I do have a lapse of memory now and again, but if I was a nursing home, not IN one mind you, but actually WAS one, I think I’d know. But he never listened. Stuck to his script like a pro. When he finally stopped and actually listened you could see his blush through the phone.

I have a friend, a psychiatrist, who estimates that nearly a third of her patients don’t have much wrong. They just need someone who will listen. So they paid her $100+ just to be listened to. I can relate. I have a couple of clients who have told me it’s worth my rate just to have someone listen, really listen, to them. I’m no different. One of the things I adore about my wife is that when I need her to listen, she listens amazingly well, better than anyone I have ever had in my life.

Listening, it seems has become a lost art. I travel a lot, and I see it a lot. I stop at a lot of McDonald’s when I travel. I am not a fan of their food, but they have internet and for the price of a burger and coke, I can work for a couple of hours between appointments. But they can’t seem to get orders right to save their life. I’ve been paying attention for years, because the stats seem impossible. Roughly one third of my orders are wrong. Gladly replaced, with the wrong order thrown away.

Listening, I have come to believe, is one of the best, most affirming things we can do for each other. When someone does listen, when they do pay attention, I feel valued. And I hear the same thing from my clients. By not listening, we are devaluing people. But when we listen well, we develop deep relationships, and if we listen well at work, we develop loyal customers and co-workers. Incredibly loyal. (for those of you who have a business bent, this translated directly into profit.)

So my madcap two days could have been prevented, just by people listening. Is that better than them being idiots? I don’t know, but it at least gave me perspective.

I enjoyed my drive home. Six hours of it, top down, mostly on the interstate. A lot of thinking time. When I got home, I went to put the top up. “Click”. Nothing.

Oh well, Listening doesn’t fix everything. Off to the shop.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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