OK Everyone, We Would Like Your Opinion

Dear Nozzlehead,

I am involved with a local fire organization where we typically vote on things. Recently, the leadership of our group has made some decisions against our wishes or has chosen to ignore our opinions and input. As a membership, we are getting frustrated, but only a few of us are speaking up - and I would be one of those people. I welcome your thoughts related to this problem. Thank you.

- Lonely at the Bottom

Dear Lonely,

The good thing about loneliness is that you are no longer surrounded by certain clueless cowardly clowns any longer. You also may not get anything accomplished either, so the answer is somewhere in between.

I was recently involved with a great group of folks who were tasked with solving some fire-related issues. I arrived at the meeting like I generally try to do, open minded and overly enthusiastic, as did many of the attendees. The first day went great; everyone worked and collaborated with what appeared to be some relatively common focus. It was pretty cool. Following that, a select, small group met and put together a summary of what we had discussed and agreed on.

We all met again, and when the items were posted, several items that we had agreed on didn’t match what we had actually agreed. So, I quietly asked some folks at my table about what we were seeing, and they had no idea where these items came from. When I asked some other tables, they too were confused.

Some would say my next step was a mistake. I raised my hand and asked how and why the final list didn’t exactly match the items we talked about the previous day. I was pretty much told to sit down and shut up. Rest assured, I am very experienced in hearing that, so it was no huge deal … except for one thing … honesty, credibility, and fairness in the process.

I have no problem if someone says that they don’t want my opinion, or anyone else’s; that’s their option and right. What I don’t like and will always speak up about is when opinions are asked for, giving an impression that solicited opinions are genuinely wanted, and then the opinions are blown off and the final product is what someone wanted to begin with. Do not waste our time.

That process continued, and while some spoke up, many did not - at least not publicly. Some whispered in agreement. Some texted in agreement. Some e-mailed in agreement. But few spoke up. I suspect that’s because these days it seems people are afraid to upset, offend, or take that risk. To be clear, a few DID speak up and felt the wrath as well, but they did speak up. And I am sure some spoke up privately, without a so-called audience. Doing so is a personal preference for some, which still does get the message to those who need to hear it.

I have no intention of maliciously upsetting or offending, I really don’t, but do not ask for my opinion if you have already made your decision. And if you “advertise” a process where opinions and majority will allegedly drive the direction, without anything behind the “wizard’s” curtain, then stay true to that process. Accept the process and its outcomes. Otherwise, just don’t ask, because in almost every case the BS will be seen through as it has in your organization. Remember, we’re all firefighters. We have time and are unofficial experts in figuring stuff out and doing size-ups before and after.

We have all experienced this and have all learned from it, as you have. It’s also important to understand that when we have experienced that, as we then climb up our own career ladders, we must remember that. If you know what outcome you want, just do it and make that decision without wasting anyone’s time. Not every decision will be popular, so just make the decision.

However, if your department policy requires input, if the bylaws require group participation, or if you have professed to be interested in input, then follow the rules. If your leadership decides to solicit input and feedback and use a group process, then structure it so that the input is integral to the outcome - or don’t waste anyone’s time.

That’s the message. Let the leadership know that your members simply want to provide input (especially if required by policy or bylaws) because they were promised that. But if it’s not solicited, the leadership was only kidding, they changed their mind, the dog ate their homework, or whatever other excuses they will come up with; they should just not waste your time. At least then you have a very clear size-up of the conditions before committing time, people, and related resources - just like at a fire.

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April 2017
Volume 12, Issue 4
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Pennwell