Be care­ful with as­sump­tions

The Prince George Citizen - - Worklife - Casey MILLER

A few months ago, I de­cided it was time to hire a house­keeper – some­one who could come once, maybe twice a month to my small, 650-square-foot down­town apart­ment and give it a good scrub.

In ad­di­tion to con­cerns about trust­wor­thi­ness, thor­ough­ness and time­li­ness, price sen­si­tiv­ity fac­tored into my de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. So, when I learned of a house­keeper who charged only $20 per hour for his clean­ing ser­vices, my first re­sponse was to as­sume that where he shined in the af­ford­abil­ity depart­ment, he must cer­tainly be lack­ing in the other areas of im­port to me.

None­the­less, I gave Max – a young, seem­ingly sheep­ish man from the Prairies – a ring and sched­uled my first ap­point­ment. I was hope­ful, but also pre­pared for dis­ap­point­ment. The price was just too good to be true, I as­sumed.

My as­sump­tions proved wrong, and very quickly. Not only were Max’s ser­vices priced rea­son­ably, but also he proved to be in­cred­i­bly trust­wor­thy, thor­ough and ef­fi­cient.

Af­ter the third or fourth clean­ing, I de­cided that what Max was charg­ing was not com­men­su­rate with his ser­vices. A raise was in or­der. Gra­ciously, and with a shy grin of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, Max ac­cepted.

A few weeks later, hur­ried and walk­ing out the door, I men­tioned to Max how ter­rific his ser­vices were and that he could charge his other clients much more for his ser­vices – at least dou­ble – and peo­ple would still hire him.

Al­beit in a small way, I was proud of my­self. Max needed val­i­da­tion, I reck­oned, and I was more than happy to give it to him. He also needed a con­fi­dence boost. Why else would he be charg­ing only $20 per hour? Max clearly didn’t rec­og­nize his own value, and now, per­haps in a small way, my words of en­cour­age­ment might give him a bit more courage to charge his worth.

As I neared my front door, I saw Max cry­ing. My words of en­cour­age­ment most cer­tainly had an im­pact, I be­lieved.

“Max,” I said, “you do such great work. Has no one ever told you that?”

“Of course they have,” he replied. “That’s not why I’m cry­ing though.”

I was be­wil­dered.

“I’m not cry­ing be­cause you told me I was worth more money. I’m cry­ing be­cause you as­sumed that it’s the money that is im­por­tant to me.”

Max went on to ex­plain that charg­ing peo­ple more money comes with greater ex­pec­ta­tions of qual­ity and per­fec­tion. And while he knows he does a great job, the added stress of liv­ing up to oth­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions was not worth it to him. More­over, he ex­plained, he has never cleaned homes for the money – that was set­tled a long time ago for him with a trust. He cleans homes to be part of a com­mu­nity, to be wel­comed in other peo­ple’s homes and to take care of oth­ers. He also re­vealed that his learn­ing dis­abil­ity pre­vents him from full-time work, and that clean­ing homes gives him a sense of pur­pose. None of it is about the money.

My be­wil­der­ment turned to shame. Vul­ner­a­bly and with great kind­ness, Max shared with me as­pects of his life that I was obliv­i­ous to. As­pects that I dis­missed away with my as­sump­tion about what he should be charg­ing and why he wasn’t.

In re­flec­tion on the day’s events, Max gave me oc­ca­sion to pause and to ex­am­ine my­self. How of­ten do I – do we all – make as­sump­tions about oth­ers, some­times even with the best in­ten­tions?

What could be pos­si­ble if we stopped on oc­ca­sion to ask “Do I know this is 100 per cent true and cor­rect?”

At home and in the work­place, what could be re­vealed if we sought to un­der­stand “why” rather than as­sert­ing “that.”

I’m grate­ful that Max had the courage to chal­lenge my as­sump­tions – a gift not of­ten so freely given, es­pe­cially in an em­ployee-em­ployer re­la­tion­ship. In ex­change, I’m try­ing to be hawk­ishly vig­i­lant about my own as­sump­tions and all of the places they show up.

Casey Miller, pres­i­dent of Six and a Half Con­sult­ing, is a lead­er­ship and team devel­op­ment spe­cial­ist. His con­sul­tancy teaches or­ga­ni­za­tions the skills needed to

cre­ate mo­ti­vated and in­spired work­places.

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