The Myriad Merits of Meticulousness

The desire to get things right comes from seeing potential everywhere they look.

True confession: More often than not, I get on people’s nerves. I’m only just now starting to figure that out in my late 50’s. (More about how I gained this insight in a subsequent post.)

For now, suffice it to say that I have been called anal retentive, nitpicky, the complainer, the troublemaker and the squeaky wheel all my life. I’m told I ask too many questions. I prefer seeing myself as someone who pays incredible attention to detail, and is constantly looking for ways to allow people to work smarter, not harder.

My thought process always begins by asking myself how something can be made better, even if it’s just by planting the right plants to attract the type of bees that you need to pollinate your crop. I’m fine with you setting the goals. I’m all about coming up with ways to best meet those goals. That, to me, doesn’t seem irritating.

I’m not into criticizing people, but my suggestions are often taken as criticisms. This never fails to surprise me, because I wouldn’t make suggestions if I couldn’t see the ability in people to carry these suggestions out. I think everyone, including myself, is capable of more.

I am fascinated by processes and procedures. I don’t focus on outcomes nearly as much as I quickly perceive all the steps that it took to reach those outcomes and spot the shortcuts that could be made. I don’t see anyone as the owner of these steps, whether they’re flawed or not. I’m not looking to assign blame or make accusations. I just want to make things better.

I genuinely believe that if you take care of the trees, the forest will take care of itself. But there is a reason I’ve avoided the hobby of growing and training bonsai. I suspect that if I ever got into the bonsai zone, I’d experience such bliss that I’d forget to eat and quickly waste away. But I’d leave behind one heck of a bonsai.

Striving for perfection can, indeed, feel blissful. It sometimes requires that you think outside of the box. Innovation, if logical and understandable, is usually beneficial. It might take some extra effort to set up new processes at first, but it the long run, they’ll save time, money, confusion, and maybe even lives.

At worst, people carry on with flawed policies without thinking about them. They’re in a rut, they’re just going with the flow, or they’re not ones to speak up about practices that could stand improvement. Or perhaps they once cared enough to suggest improvements, but they’ve given up because they have been shot down too often, and speaking from experience, that can be maddening.

Nothing sets my teeth on edge more than being told, “we’ve just always done it this way.”

But is that way logical? Is it ethical? Is it the fastest, safest, most efficient way? Has it kept up with the times? Is it easy to understand and implement consistently? Can you explain the reasoning behind it?

I struggle to understand why others fail to see that details matter. If we all know that the data being collected is flawed or unnecessary, wouldn’t it be better to find a more accurate way to collect it, or, better yet, stop collecting it entirely? “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it for me. If you can’t tell me why, I tend to think, “Why bother?”

Managers, in particular, cannot stand me. They wish I would just shut up and do my job. They can’t understand why “it ain’t broke” doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. They want people who keep their heads down and maintain the status quo. They hate change, because they think it will look like they’ve been doing something wrong all along. They’re invested in stagnation because it’s predictable. They aren’t really looking for team players as much as they seek compliant cogs.

The funny thing is that on the rare occasion that someone actually follows one of my suggestions or listens to one of my questions and take it into account, they tend to be grateful that they did in the long run. Often, I can point out things that need clarification so that massive mistakes aren’t made. Gathering the specifics, when possible, goes a long way toward efficiency. I have cut many a problem off at the pass by tending to the specifics.

Meticulous people are often the most safety-oriented people in your organization. They also tend to be excellent trainers, because they are thorough. And they are the perfect people to provide stellar customer service, because they go above and beyond and are constantly focused on ways to provide the best quality for their customers.

If you allow your employees to take initiative, make suggestions, and, yes, pick those nits, in the end they make you look good. With a meticulous person proofreading all your copy, for example, you can rest assured that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. They will ensure that you meet your goals. They get things right, on time, and as promised. They also keep accurate records and write detailed reports.

I view my meticulousness as a valuable skill set. At the same time, though, I avoid supervisory roles because I want to continue to use my force for good. In a supervisory role, I could quickly become a micromanager. I’ve had my share of those, and I chafe under their scrutiny.

While I’m all for picking a good nit, micromanagers lose sight of the reason, the logic, and the end goal of making things better for all concerned. Instead of focusing on improvements and efficiency, they fall in love with that heady feeling of control and superiority. They think they can only maintain that twisted high by making those around them seem incompetent and inferior. No thank you. I’ll pass. There are other details that I’d much rather pay attention to.

All I ask is that the next time you get irritated by the meticulous people in your life, please consider reframing your perception. They don’t want to be the burrs in your saddle. They want to be the wind beneath your wings. Listen to what they have to say. They’ll help you reach the highest of heights.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!


Who Gets to Decide?

Who gets to define what trouble is?

One of the least favorite people in my life has told me more than once that I push back too much, and that I am always making excuses. I often wonder if he ever says those things to men. I suspect not.

What he sees as me pushing back too much, I see as me attempting to add value to the workplace. He would much prefer that I just shut up and do what I’m told, but that’s just not in me. He actually uses the term “disobedient” with me, as if I’m not a grown-a$$ woman with a great deal of life experience, but actually a puppy who has just pooped on the carpet. He laments that he doesn’t have the authority to discipline anyone. I suspect he’d use a rolled up newspaper.

If I wanted to just check my brain at the door and blindly follow orders, I’d have joined the military. It has always been my experience that it’s a good idea to listen to various points of view, rather than discount them, before deciding what a best practice might be. My goal is not to aggressively have my way. My goal is to point out things that perhaps haven’t been considered so that the whole team can reach the finish line safely and efficiently. I genuinely don’t see what is wrong with that.

He views my input as a form of humiliation. But in order for me to wish to humiliate the man, I’d have to first give a shit about him on some personal level. And given his low opinion of me, I really can’t be bothered.

What he sees as me always making excuses, I see as me attempting explain and defend my actions when he attacks my reputation. He has a habit of throwing people under the bus.

He thinks I’m saying “I refuse to do this thing because I want to avoid doing it.” Or, “I only speak because I live to embarrass you.” No. I’m saying “I agree the job needs doing, but doing it that way might cause the following things to occur. Maybe we should try this slightly different approach instead.” But apparently that’s me not being a good little soldier.

In his mind, I am a troublemaker. That begs the question, “Who gets to decide who is a troublemaker?” And, “Who gets to define what trouble is?”

As far as I’m concerned, my attempt to try to improve upon an idea isn’t trouble, even if it agitates him. The fact that I’m not passive enough to allow him to make me do whatever fool thing pops into his head isn’t trouble, even if it frustrates him. I suspect that his agitation and frustration are actually related to his lack of maturity, his closed mind, and his deep-seated belief that he’s far superior to anyone else and therefore should never be questioned.

When war is going on, each side sees the other as the troublemaker. In the end, the victors get to write the history. That must be a heady experience. But maybe you shouldn’t climb up into your rigid old tank just yet. Maybe there’s room for diplomacy.

Sometimes two people are just attempting to reach a destination by using different paths. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “You might want to detour around that patch of quicksand. Just saying.” If someone said that to me, I’d give it some serious thought.

Perspective. While Native Americans see us as invaders, thieves, and perpetrators of genocide, those of us of European descent often try to desperately cling to some sort of modernized concept of manifest destiny so we won’t have to feel guilty. Who is the true troublemaker in this scenario? I’m thinking it’s not the ones who are usually called the troublemakers in our school books.

Suffragettes were called troublemakers, too. But the story of their movement can and has been written by a variety of people with a whole host of perspectives. Those who wanted to keep women down would naturally see their protests as trouble. Those who saw a problem with policy and watched these women draw attention to that problem so that it might be solved rather than ignored saw those protesters as heroes.

The late US Representative John Lewis said it best:

“What can you do to get into good trouble? There is a light inside of you that will turn on when you get into good trouble. You will feel emboldened and freed. You will realize that unjust laws cannot stop you. These laws cannot stop the truth that is in your heart and soul.”

Yes, there are people out there who delight in being trolls, who enjoy making trouble for trouble’s sake. I’m not that kind of person. If I irritate you, it’s because I’m suggesting a change that I think might be an improvement for all concerned, which you, unfortunately, have chosen to view as an inconvenient interruption by an uppity woman.

But, dammit, if I see quicksand, I’m going to speak up. Every time. What you choose to do with that information is entirely up to you.

If I really wanted to be a troublemaker, I’d just sit back and let you step into that quicksand. I’d laugh as you sank. Do you really think that’s my goal? Grow up.

Grow up, or go suck on a lollypop.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!

I Sure Could Use a Nisse

My mother was first generation American. Her parents came from Denmark. So as I grew up, she would sometimes tell me Danish folklore, especially around Christmas. I was particularly fascinated with stories of the nisse.

The nisse was an elf-like creature who lived on your farm, usually in the barn or the attic, and if you treated him well, he would protect your family. If you didn’t, he could be a bit of a troublemaker.

He was usually described as a short little man, half the height of the average man at most, and he had grey hair and a bright red, pointy cap. He could disappear at will and had incredible strength. These tales probably sprang from ancient stories of house gods or ancestor worship. Regardless, the nisse was definitely someone you wanted on your side.

I think it would really be comforting to know you have someone whose sole purpose in life is to have your back. It would be great to feel constantly protected. I would love to know that there would always, always be someone to respond when I called for help.

It sure would be nice to feel ever-confident of my own security. I’ve never really had that. I’d be willing to build a barn if that’s what it takes…