“What’s that man doing up there?” my wife asked, referring to the person standing alongside the single-lane dirt path that led to the road.
“Looks like he’s handing out some kind of coupons,” I replied.
We’d just finished our annual morning of apple picking with the two kids — Tyler (2) and Parker (6 months) — on an unseasonably warm Fall morning, and were heading home for the usual round of lunch and naps.
“Well, he sure is taking his time,” my wife said, noting that a full-blown conversation had sprung up with the driver in front of us.
“Relax,” I said, “we’re not in a rush.”
After about a minute (which seemed like 10), I leaned out my window to catch a bit of the conversation. My goal was to gauge the urgency of the exchange, which would then inform my course of action. What I heard sounded like the man telling the driver about some fun things to do in the area, and there didn’t seem to be the least hint of them winding things up. I glanced in the rearview mirror to see about four cars now behind me.
Leaning out the car window and addressing the man — in a tone I recall as measured, but my wife describes as belligerent — I said, “Maybe he could pull over so we can get by, and you can continue your conversation over there.”
“What the hell is your problem?” the man shot back, as if he’d been looking forward to the moment my patience ran out.
“My problem is I don’t feel like sitting here all day while you chat it up,” I said, doubly enraged at his enraged response.
“You don’t know who you’re talking to,” he yelled, as my car pulled even with him (the previous driver finally realizing his continued presence was unwelcome).
“Oh yeah,” I said, “Who are you?”
“I’m the owner,” he yelled, red in the face now.
“Well, I was the customer,” I said, “but I’m not coming back!”
“Good. I don’t want you back … Get the hell out of my orchard!”
With that, I likely became one of the few people in world history to be thrown out of an apple orchard — certainly not my intent when securing our little ones in the car seat that fine morning.
Why, I pondered during our drive home — trying to concentrate amidst the distraction of my wife’s uncontrollable laughter — did I go from 0 to 60 on the anger scale in the blink of an eye. It didn’t take me long to come up with the answer — I cannot stand anyone playing fast and loose with my time.
Now, before you think I’m losing it, let’s get a few things clear. Do I have a problem standing on lines? No. Do I have constant road rage when in traffic? No. I do, however, have a big problem if it becomes clear someone (in either a temporary or recurring position to do so) makes it obvious their time is more important than mine or, worse, that my time is not important at all.
With his responses, the orchard owner was essentially saying: “This is my place and I rule here. If I want to talk with someone, I will do it. If you are inconvenienced as a result, so be it. You will wait as long as necessary for me to finish my business. If you don’t like it, don’t come back.”
Just as I would not accept this treatment from an orchard owner, I have never accepted it from employers.
I’m sure everyone reading this column can identify with the treatment I’m talking about: managers who forget appointments with you or cancel them at the last minute, those who keep you waiting for a meeting while they finish up other business or take calls and check emails during your meeting, or those who must enjoy meetings so much they let them drag on forever. While you know it’s been done to you, I’m sure you would claim innocence if charged with committing such time crimes. My suggestion would be to honestly reflect on your record and vow to do better.
Because of my time sensitivity, a major premise of healthsystemCIO.com is to never waste one second of your time by putting sub-par or irrelevant information in front of you. To be successful, you must have the same respect for the time of your reports, colleagues and vendors.
Napoleon once famously said,
“Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”
Since an essential element of success is complete control over one’s emotions, I’m not overjoyed with how my run-in with the orchard owner went, but I’m not dismayed either. An essential part of commanding the respect of others is having reasonable lines that cannot be crossed without triggering certain responses. This is often called, “having a backbone.” You’ve got one, now make sure you’re approach towards others respects theirs as well.