I was standing next to the washing machine when I noticed some water on the floor.
“It’s wet over here,” I said to my wife, as I got down on my knees and began to investigate.
As any homeowner knows, the appearance of water where there shouldn’t be any is a very unpleasant thing. But it got worse, as the wet floor led me to a wet wall and, eventually, a wet ceiling. As I pondered the accumulating moisture which would periodically produce a thudding drip, my wife offered, “You better call a plumber.”
“I think I’ll cut open the ceiling and have a look,” I said. However, not being a plumbing wiz, I imagined pointlessly surveying the pipes much like people who don’t have a clue about auto mechanics opening the hood and staring at the engine. Maybe I would call the plumber.
But, oh no, Mike … not Mike …
Mike, you see, is currently at the top of my go-to plumbers list. Now, let’s be clear, this list is an extremely short list (I think there’s one other name on it of someone who may have retired from bum knees) even though it’s pretty easy to get on it. For one, I must have heard of you. Secondly, I must have your phone number. And thirdly, to get to the top, you must have called me back, shown up, and successfully done the work you were hired to do. Keep in mind that nowhere in those criteria is being pleasant to deal or charging a fair price (and who among us knows what that is anyway).
Mike came to my attention as the plumbing sub brought in by our general contractor when we had our kitchen redone. And it was at that point I came into contact with his, let’s say, unusual approach to dealing with customers.
To be specific, he made it clear that he did not care much for the quality of the faucet he was tasked with installing, and so he couldn’t really vouch for its performance. Now, when you’re spending God knows how much money on a new kitchen, the last thing you want is flack from the plumber about how you went cheap on the faucet. Oh and by the way, my wife assured me (and I believe her) that she didn’t go cheap on the faucet at all. Perhaps Mike had grown too accustomed to working with the rich and famous.
Anyway, I suffered Mike’s slights in silence because good plumbers who return your calls and show up aren’t a dime a dozen, so one doesn’t discard them like yesterday’s newspaper. In fact, when it’s raining from your ceiling, they are almost literally worth their weight in gold.
And so when Mike offered some parenting criticism in addition to his faucet complaints, I still kept my peace. I came to learn that Mike had a hardscrabble childhood — rather than helicopter parenting, he suffered from absentee parenting, leaving him of the opinion that any assistance one offers their child will make them weak and ineffectual adults.
After all that, I was happy to see Mike go. But now, I needed Mike to come back.
And though he is a prickly pear, Mike fulfilled all the good plumber criteria again. I called and left a message about 7:30 in the morning, and he not only called me back, but was at my house by 8:30. He almost immediately diagnosed the problem without even cutting the drywall (it was a leaky seal around the base of the toilet), and had it fixed within the next hour. Of course, the visit wouldn’t have been complete without Mike being Mike and so he had to offer some criticism of my parenting.
At one point, my son wanted to go upstairs and get something, but currently he’s afraid of being on any floor of the house alone.
“Why is he scared of going upstairs by himself? Mike asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“That’s strange,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Really strange,” Mike said.
“Yeah, well, he’s 8. Who knows,” I said, trying to end the conversation.
“Huh,” he said, pondering this apparently most disturbing of facts.
After a few more seconds of silence, he moved on and continued packing up his tools, finally handing me a $300 bill. (Remember, good prices ARE NOT an important quality in a good plumber.)
I had gotten what I needed, and can still call Mike for service in the future, because I was able (after a lifetime of practice) to hold my tongue, swallow my pride, and keep my mind on the big picture (leaky ceiling). Sure, it might have felt good to tell Mike to mind his own damn business when it comes to my kid or my faucet, but life doesn’t work that way, unless you want to have a very difficult one.
And just as life doesn’t work that way, neither does being effective in the workplace. You simply cannot sound off and let the world know every time you feel slighted or taken advantage of or, to use the parlance of our time, “triggered.” If you let fly every time you get irked, it doesn’t make you strong or noble — it makes you a child, who by definition cannot control his or her emotions.
So the next time you’re able to suffer a fool because he happens to be savant in the area you need him, know that you’re not being weak, you’re being strong. You’re doing what you must to get the job done; to keep the wheels moving to accomplish the objective. And remember, if you sound off on the plumber because he insults the “crappy” job you and your father-in-law did installing the toilet and now he won’t call you back, your only safe space may be one that requires an umbrella.