Canadian Contractor

People are not things, and knowing how to handle things does not prepare you for handling people

"I became a carpenter in part because I had no confidence is handling personal relationships."

September 23, 2019
By Robert Koci

About two years in to my carpentry career, I was cutting 2 x 4 for a big, end-of-day glue-up at a furniture factory where two of us (the boss and me) made beds, tables and chairs. I don’t remember how many pieces were involved, but I am sure I was at the radial arm saw at least an hour, gang cutting the lumber and re-stacking it by the gluing table. It was when I was about to start gluing that I realized I had set up the radial arm to cut all the lumber exactly one inch too short. As a young kid just starting out and working in a very small furniture shop where that much lumber was a big, big expense, I was horrified. I stared at the lumber dumbfounded for a long time, then checked and rechecked the length to confirm that I has just wasted a lot of time and wood.

My strongest memory of the moment was the realization that material things don’t lie, manipulate or play games. When you cut lumber one inch too short, it stays one inch too short forever. It never changes its mind. It doesn’t say a moment later, “Ha ha, fooled you, I am actually the right length.” It is not capricious. It obeys the laws of physics and nature, and your feelings, plans or needs be damned. At the moment in question, that was a terrible reality, but it also explained to me why I chose carpentry as a profession.

I became a carpenter in part because I had no confidence is handling personal relationships. I didn’t know much, but I was convinced that people were very, very hard to handle, and, where honesty was concerned, the laws that material things obeyed were more trustworthy. At least material things were honest, clear and unequivocating. It’s something I needed, so having a “relationship” with material things was better in the long run for my peace of mind.

But the ambitions of business came along and I expected my construction knowledge and my ability to handle material things to be a critical benefit to success.

Any of you who own businesses know where I am going with this. You are nodding in recognition. You transitioned too, from working on things to working with people, and rediscovered the hell that people can be and how useless your ability to handle things is to running a business. Business is ALL ABOUT PEOPLE! You are surrounded by the hellish creatures now, and reliving the pre-carpentry horrors that drove you to handling things in the first place!

What to do? Humbly, carefully, you must turn to those better than you at handling people, sit at their feet, and listen. You will discover that, though people are far more complex than lumber, there are good rules to follow that can at least get you pointed in the general direction of success.

I decided at age 27 that the Judaeo/Christian paradigm was going to be the lens through which I was going to understand humanity, our place in the world and how to conduct interpersonal relationships. It’s worked out pretty well, I think. You will need one of those lenses, too. Find one that fits you, make it prove itself in the real world of personal relationships and then work it, refine it and get it right.

And as a sidebar, remember that the guy you are promoting to Project Manager from being a site guy has at least in part the same revelation and experience as I had. His technical ability will NOT prepare him for Project Management. In fact there is a good argument for not hiring site workers to management levels because they are often not prepared at all for the amount of human interaction they are about to experience and more importantly, don’t want it.


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