The Hess Report

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

What Do You Do With A Stupid Sailor? 

I find myself in a delicate balance of attitude and practicality at work these days. I've been here long enough that I've seen the exact same problems happen two dozen times, with the exact same fixes, and the people making those mistakes fail quite spectacularly to learn from them. As I have no authority to fire their asses or otherwise even influence their decision making behaviors or reward structure, I have no say in whether or not they keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again. It is my responsibility, however, to fix the problems that their mistakes create.

So I'm faced with a conundrum. Participating in this pointless exercise on a regular basis makes me frustrated with and resentful of these people. The first two or three times aren't a problem for me. After that, thought, they really should know better. They are making my job harder by lacking some of the basic skills to do their own job. However, I have to work with these people and get along with them. If I let the resentment grow and continue on this path, I know for a fact that it will affect the way I deal with them. I'm pretty bad at hiding resentment/lack of respect, and it'll start showing. I don't want that to happen.

The other side of the conundrum is this: my only way of really dealing with this sort of incompetence without it turning into resentment is to lower my expectations of these people. I find that if I remind myself "they just can't remember these simple things - they're not capable" I can deal with the constant screw-ups a lot more patiently and positively. It works in the short term. In the long term, though, I fear that the condescension inherent in that particular attitude will likewise come out. Also, that notion just doesn't sit well with me. They can do and remember this stuff. Why they do not is beyond me.

So what do I do? Being in the labor force for more than ten years now, and from talking to pretty much anyone else who has worked for a living, I have concluded that simply not working with incompetent people is not an option. If these people were complete dicks it wouldn't be a problem. But some of them are very nice, good people even, and I don't want to end up treating them badly. Argh.

What do you do with a stupid sailor--you try with all your might not to call him stupid and try really hard with even more might to not think of him as stupid, and you hope with all your might that he will not sink your ship through his stupidness.

Try teaching someone for days on end that 1/4 + 1/4 is not 2/8 or that the easy way to multiply by 100 is move the decimal point 2 places, and find out two weeks later that they can only get 2 out of 25 correct on the test.

Now these same people can remember the words to countless rock songs or remember the words and motions to a dozen cheers. So why can't they remember a couple of simple rules that will make mathematical life so simple for them.

I don't know the answer--I'm not sure anyone does. But the one thing that I have told students for 25 years is that maybe they can get away with not knowing certain things in school, since it is only for a grade, but once they hit the work force all of that will change and they will most likely lose their jobs if they cannot perform. Maybe I have been wrong all this time.
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