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Written By: Sandy Bjorgen, IMPROV-able Results ~ 6/13/2024


The plumber arrives eager to leave. I haven’t picked up on this yet as I let him in and introduce myself. In return, he tells me his name (not on his shirt), but I can’t understand his accent. I’m starting to panic. I try to say his name, then ask him to spell it, then say it again and ask if it’s right. He looks at me like I’m crazy. I want to seem friendly but I’m trying too hard and making him uncomfortable.

I lead him to the kitchen sink. I tell him I have a list of questions, but the leaking hose is the most important thing. He says he was told his job is to fix the hose, that people always throw a lot at him when he gets there, that he has two more jobs to get to and has only an hour, maybe a bit more, for this one. I don’t mention that I’ve gone over the main problem and my additional questions with the office contact. Also, I was told that I’d get a phone call 30 minutes before he arrived. The arrival window was 11 am to 2 pm. He rang my bell at 12:10. No heads-up.

Something is off. I try to be pleasant, low key. Maybe the office has put him in a time crunch. Maybe he’s always like this. I don’t know. But I don’t want to make things worse for either one of us. I cut down the list to 3 small issues the plumber seems to have time for.

He shows me the hose he’s just replaced under the sink. Near the old water-damaged wood, I see a fresh water spot and ask what it’s from. He stares at me, then says, “Well I changed the hose. The water has to go somewhere.” I say, “Right, right.” He points to the elbow joint he’s ready to replace, “There’s going to be a lot of water spurting out here.” He grabs my drip pan from the counter, “I’ll need this.” “Oh,” I say, “do you need a bigger pan, or some towels?” “I have towels,” he says. “Ok. I can get you a bigger pan and more towels if you need them.” He starts to loosen the joint and says, “I have everything I need.”

At the end of the hour, we’re wrapping things up. I’d like to lighten him up, get him to smile. I say, “I’m always asking questions.” “Dumb questions,” I add. He says, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” He must think this is the right thing to say. Clearly he thinks there are dumb questions. But we’re both smiling now. I should have used that phrase much sooner.

I assumed that what I said to the office person was conveyed completely to the plumber; that he would call before arriving, be in a good mood, have time to answer my questions in addition to solving the main issue, appreciate my attempt to get his name right. I forgot how important it is to expect the unexpected and remain flexible. To not try to force my own agenda.

If I could start over, I’d greet him with, “How is your day going so far?” or “Busy day?” That would give him the chance to unload and defuse frustrations. That would help me find out if he was in the mood for chit chat. I’d avoid making him uncomfortable by lingering over his name – it wasn’t essential that I use it. I’d ask what his time limit was and what he understood he was there for and let him get to it. I’d stay out of his way.

He did good work. I thanked him as he went out the door and then called out, “Have a good weekend.” I heard, “Yeah, you too.” I was glad he still felt like talking to me.

Assumptions and expectations can lead to misunderstandings and frustrations. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” (George Bernard Shaw). Good questions and listening to the answers help us uncover cross purposes and start consciously working together toward important common goals.

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Sandy Bjorgen
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