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Question What Doesn’t Seem Right

Jan 18th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

As I get older, adiposity one of the things that I feel that I know more than I used to is that I know less than I thought I did. Does that make sense? When you’re young, you pretty much know everything. I’m not saying that you bluff your way through, either. You actually know. As you get older, black and white fades to gray, and you start to understand your own limitations. This might explain why old people get dementia. Eventually, you wake up in the morning and you’re not even sure you know who anyone is.

I was listening recently to one of ESPN’s Bill Simmons’ podcasts and he and Cousin Sal were discussing a line in a movie that refers to professional football. The character is supposed to be a bookie, but he says something that makes no sense about something that a sports bookie should absolutely know, and they were wondering, wasn’t there some guy on the film crew – maybe not the director or the actors – but some guy running a boom or holding a mike who heard the actor say the line and thought, “Whoa, that’s not right.”

I think this is a scenario that plays out over and over again in all types of businesses and families and life situations. You witness something, or hear something, or read something and you think, “Wait a minute, something’s not quite right here.” You know that something’s not quite right, but whoever this person is that did or said or wrote it is the supposed “expert,” so there’s a degree of self-doubt. Most of the time, it’s not a serious situation so it doesn’t matter a whole lot if you don’t say anything.

One place this can happen, however, where it is a serious situation, is in a hospital or a medical office. Believe it or not, for people who work in a hospital, procedures that you or I might think of as very serious are considered routine. What happens when people start treating systems or procedures as routine is when they make mistakes. If you or a loved one is receiving medical care, you must be your own (or your loved one’s) advocate. For the most part, the caregivers want to help, and they really care about you, but you are only one of 85 patients they are caring for, so even though it might not be your job to make sure everything goes right, this is not one of those situations where you let things go wrong on principle.

It almost never hurts to ask questions. This is an excellent way to interject your knowledge without causing someone to lose face. Let’s say you’re re-towing a vehicle from an automotive shop to a body shop to have some body work done before the automotive repair is completed. They’re swamped at the body shop, so when you get there the service writer tells you “just drop it outside.” So you repeat the instruction to make sure, and he gets snippy and says, “Did I stutter? Just drop it outside.” Now you have a choice to make. Do you have to be offended by his demeanor? No. Put yourself in his shoes — he’s swamped and probably underpaid, and he’s disgruntled about having to run some errand for his wife during lunch. So you venture one more question: “You know the front suspension is out of the car, right?” At that point, if he doesn’t want to shift out of emergency mode and make sure the car is placed where it won’t soon have to be moved again, you’ve done all that you can be reasonably expected to do to make his life easier.

What if you really know that someone is wrong, but you feel like you’ve already had their back multiple times on the issue and you’re tired of keeping them from failing? I’ve been in that spot. Years ago, right after 9/11, our tow company was contracted to keep a truck and driver stationed at the Portland airport to circle through departures and arrivals every 15 minutes and move unattended vehicles to a holding area. We were there 24 hours a day for about four months. I managed the dispatch department, and our tow manager was responsible for driver scheduling. I was adamant that the drivers who were sent out to airport duty could not be drivers scheduled for a regular shift because that would leave us short drivers, which is a concern for the dispatchers (and the customers). It seemed like an almost daily event that at some point I would have to contact the tow manager to find out who was covering airport duty, and he would scramble to find someone. Often it ended up being someone already on-duty because he hadn’t planned ahead. One morning dispatch notified me that driver A was leaving the airport at 10:00 and no one was scheduled to replace him. I told the dispatcher to let it play out, to not worry about it. And I didn’t remind the tow manager. So 10:00 came and went, and no one went to the airport, and all you-know-what broke loose.

This kind of thing always comes back to bite you in the butt. Guess who got in trouble? Me, of course. Why? Because I was the fail-safe option. Regardless of whether or not I should have been, or wanted to be, or deserved to be, or had not been assigned to be — I was. And really, for something really important, there should always be a fail-safe option. The first time I accepted that role, and every time I accepted it thereafter, I reinforced it. Now that I’m older and I don’t care so much about what’s fair, I can see that I should have been working with the tow manager, my peer, to find a system he could handle for scheduling airport duty that prevented the problem from happening in the first place — as soon as I recognized it was going to be a regular problem. If I was worried about getting “credit,” I could have asked him to tell my boss what a great guy I was for helping him.

I wonder how often we don’t speak up when we should — maybe not because we don’t want to help, but because we think that someone else knows better what should be happening.

My advice: ask questions. I don’t care how irritated someone gets or how superior they act, ask questions. Measure twice, cut once. Have someone’s back. Be the fail-safe option. It’s good karma.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper