Let The Conversation Flow

In perusing one of the many solid waste publications I am inundated with monthly, I came across an article on management that perked up my ears. The author suggested using your working time's monetary value - expressed in dollars per hour - as a benchmark as to how much time to devote to that person.

The concept seemed to suggest that the time spent in "accomplishing" something with a person who could net you more than your time costs was worthwhile, but that mere conversation was worthless.

Those are fighting words to someone like me, who enjoys reading, writing and talking. In my experience, I have picked up some of the most important - and, sometimes, lucrative - information from a casual comment in a conversation about another subject. Such comments are often prefaced by phrases such as "by the way," "did you hear what happened?" or "I was talking to so-and-so the other day . . . "

There are a plethora of gurus who claim to have discovered the key to management success, melting it down to a formula which controls every move you make. This usually has some simple rule which, like costing your time, seems logical. And, for each of these gurus, there is a competent - but obviously paranoid - manager who will try these ideas.

In this downsizing era, such paranoia is understandable. It makes sense to look for an edge that can safeguard your job. Unfortunately, there is no gimmick to success. I have attended seminars on effective management that touted the value of "getting the monkey off your back" or dividing things into squares or a list of other "magic" management formulas. In every case, they seemed to entail more effort than they were worth.

"Managing" something means to direct certain behavior toward a goal. Some people talk about managing time, like the author who suggested we convert our time into dollars. But time doesn't seem to react well to management, since it keeps on doing what it wants no matter how hard you try to change it.

Others talk about people management. By learning enough about human behavior, you can decipher how to influence most people. Learn as much as possible about them as individuals. Know where you want them to go and what you want them to do. Give them the information they need to understand the task and make sure they understand what they will gain. Supervise them and correct any inappropriate behavior or procedures.

If they still can't do the job, suggest they become management consultants. Like they say, if you can't do it, teach it!

The concept that people are sitting there, waiting for you to enlighten them may seem patronizing to some employees. After all, they know what they were hired for, right? Wrong. I have watched strong, intelligent men get pinned three times out of three falls by a heavy trash can.

Rookie collectors invariably will miss stops in unfamiliar terrain, even with detailed maps. But rookies are not the only ones who have bad habits. Complacent veterans get caught in messy accidents, too. A patient, knowledgeable, trainer who likes people is an asset no operation can be without.

Communication is the grease that allows the parts to work smoothly together. You never know when crucial information is about to be imparted or by whom.

Some of the most valuable information can come from unlikely sources, which suggests that you keep the lines of communication open, judge the communication's value as it is being given.

It also means you politely remind a less-interesting communicator that you have another call, or that your office is on fire - whatever works for you.

However, if you're enjoying the conversation, don't put a price tag on the time spent talking, enjoy it. Who knows, maybe you will hear something valuable. Or, maybe something you say will open up paths for the listener.

Don't assume, though, that the other person knows exactly what you mean. Differences in backgrounds and communication skills can create misunderstandings. And, the same word can be misconstrued due to emotion, education, culture and other factors. Therefore, terse oral or written communications don't always express what you intend.

This is not a suggestion that all communication has to be extensive, exhaustive or watertight, but if the recipient doesn't get the message, you are not communicating your ideas - or worse yet, you are communicating the wrong ideas. That is costly!

Send questions about your solid waste operations to Bill Knapp at 3336 Vista Ricosa, Escondido, Calif. 92029. (619) 741-5349. Fax: (619) 740-9177.