*As the old saying goes, “Don’t Assume, because Assume = (Ass) out of (U) and (Me).”

Sharon Koehler

Artistic Stone Design

We are a small business. And like a lot of small businesses, we employ some outside support for payroll, insurance and some other things. We have one particular support person that makes A LOT of mistakes. How this person still has a job sometimes amazes me because truthfully, if that person worked for me, I would have hired someone else by now.

Anyway, recently there was a mistake made of catastrophic proportions. It was bad, and I was angry because I had other things to do besides spend several hours of my time trying to fix, yet again, another screw up. I walked around the office for a bit, cussin’, fussin’ and bitchin’. “Why do we still deal with this person?” Stomp. Stomp. “Why do we still have anything to do with this company?” More stomping. “This is not the first time, but if I have anything to say about it, this will be last time.” You get the idea. 

I tried to sort this out using the telephone, but all I got was voice mail. After about 30 minutes, when my message wasn’t returned, I got in my Jeep and drove over to their office. The “mistake maker” was there, and I was not exactly pleasant. I asked for and received all documentation concerning this transaction and the mistake. I then got back in my Jeep and drove to the bank. I explained to the first available teller what the problem was, and she couldn’t help me. I had to wait for the account manager, who by the way was in a meeting so I sat in the lobby for about 15 minutes. Admittedly, the longer I sat there, the more my bad mood took over. I sat there thinking to myself, “You can’t be mad at the bank, it’s not their fault. Sharon, be nice, you can’t blame them.” And, “Be nice! Be nice, it’s not their fault.” Once again, you get the idea.

After I was finished with the account manager and everything was taken care of, I drove back to the “mistake maker’s” office, where I very promptly and sincerely APOLOGIZED. It had been a bank mistake. I had wrongfully assumed that it was the “mistake maker’s” fault because of the history of previous issues. I had assumed that it was just the same person making yet another mistake.  I had never even considered that it might be someone else’s fault. That was MY mistake. 

A week or so later I was lamenting this whole ordeal to a friend of mine who owns a granite shop (yes, I am friendly with the competition), and he said he totally understood. He had an installer that kept screwing up and making mistakes.  He kept having to send people back to “fix” things this guy had screwed up. He said a customer called him last week and laid another mistake at this guy’s feet. He told me he got mad and pretty much laid the guy out and told him one more mistake and he was history. Come to find out, days later, another trade that came in after them caused the problem. 

He did say that he did not apologize to the guy because he deserved the chewing out for past mistakes.  (I did not agree with that, but it’s not my shop.) Anyway, he had made the same mistake I did. He assumed that the “mistake maker” had done it again. He assumed the trend of mistakes was continuing with this guy. 

The point here is that you should never assume anything. We as humans are pretty quick by nature to lay blame and find fault. “What? Something went wrong! Whose fault is it? Who can I blame? I didn’t do it – did you do it? I didn’t do it – he did it! Bring me their head!” 

We want to assess blame, and then go about fixing the problem. Business and personal relationships have been strained and lost due to the assumption of blame and who did what to who and when.

What did I learn from my experience? Always listen to all sides. If you don’t understand how or why something happened, ask questions. Don’t assume that someone is being untruthful. They may not be aware of everything that happened, and what they are telling you may be the truth, as they know it. Be calm, cool and collected. You will have an easier time understanding things when you aren’t busy flying off the handle. You’ll be able to think and problem solve more efficiently also if you stay calm.
Plus, people are more willing to help you if you are calm.

If it’s a chronic problem – the same person making the same mistake over and over, find out why they are doing what they are doing. It’s possible they misunderstood something and they think they are doing it right. Coach them properly and fairly. Don’t yell or be sarcastic. (That one is hard for me, as sarcasm seems to be in my nature.) It’s much easier to learn something with someone sitting next to you going, “You need to push A instead of B because… ” instead of, “You MORON, how many times do I have to tell you – push A instead of B!”

So, stay calm, get all sides of the story and never ASSUME anything. Things aren’t always as they seem. And, if you don’t do these things, be ready to apologize. You just may have to.

Please send your thoughts on this article to Sharon Koehler at .