“Nobody is going to show up,” Manny kept saying about the contractor breakfast we were planning. “It's a giant waste of money if you ask me.”
The truth was, I hadn't asked him. I had stopped asking Manny about things a long time ago. It's not that I didn't want to know his opinion; it's just that I already knew what it was: Manny has a problem with just about everything.
If you asked Manny what he thought about our lumber pricing, he invariably would say it was too high. “We're pricing ourselves out of the market!” he'd implore. If we took notice of his warning and lowered the pricing, he'd shake his head in wonder and mutter, “How are we supposed to make any money around here if they keep giving the wood away?”
Manny was the first person to point out that our competition offered longer store hours on the weekends (“We have to get in the game!”), and he was the first to question the wisdom of increasing our hours (“We're working the staff to death!”).
Manny once called the owner at home to challenge his decision to start selling on the Internet. “Sorry to pull you away from your barbeque,” he told the owner. “But I'm just not sure this whole World Wide Web thing is going to catch on.”
His negative vibes aren't always wrong, and on more than one occasion his pessimisms were heeded. Like the time I wanted to buy a truckload of hot water heaters at a good price. “We can't sell 10 hot water heaters, let alone a truckload,” he predicted. “Our customers are carpenters, not plumbers.” I think he was right. And you can always count on Manny to flush out any problems with new employees.
And Manny contributes to sales, to the yard, to the store ... you can count on him no matter what the need, provided you don't require optimism to get through the work day.
But in the long run, it's hard to be around so much negativity. Hearing every little decision questioned and disparaged can have a demoralizing effect.
Not that varied opinions aren't valued. Management always solicits views and ideas from every member of the team, and, in return, we are always honest in our replies. Exchanging ideas, opinions, and criticisms in a straightforward and open way is crucial to forming a lasting and productive team.
With honesty in mind, I spoke with Manny about the contractor breakfast. I thanked him for all his hard work, and told him I knew I could count on him to be a great part of the event that, despite his concerns, we would be hosting. I went on to discuss his tendency to view things negatively and how it could have a deleterious effect on the company and his career with us. I concluded our talk by simply saying it's no fun to be around someone who's so pessimistic all the time.
Of course, I expected a poor reaction. I was prepared to hear Manny complain about my concerns (something along the lines of “You're sounding a little too corporate”). Instead, he actually agreed with me.
I was stunned.
“You know, I just worry a lot,” he explained and assured me he'd work on his pessimism.
“So, I guess we're doing that Builders'Breakfast?” he asked. I nodded and he thought for a minute.
“Well, at least we'll get a free meal out of it,” Manny said before leaving my office.
It was a start.
Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org