There are different choices you can make as a business owner, whether you’re a client or a vendor, a per-project freelancer or on retainer, or whatever your particular setup may be. These choices will impact your interactions with others on a job, and that may also affect whether you get hired again. But it seems people often forget, or don’t care, to think about these things. It all goes back to some common themes on this podcast – mindset, communication, and being a decent human. So, which kind of human are you?
I was recently on a project with a large crew. I had 35 on my team and there were hundreds of others working together to make a big event successful. It had been a while, about a year and a half, since I worked with anyone in person. Being there, I was reminded that one thing I do love about being on a set is that it feeds my fascination with people and how they act. You get so many different personalities, working styles, communication preferences, and somehow everyone has to work together as somewhat of a cohesive unit.
I had some really great conversations that week and someone brought up something interesting about production, but I imagine it applies to plenty of other job types as well. We often bring together these big groups of people. Some may know each other personally or from previous jobs, but many are coming in with no familiarity at all. They quickly have to form bonds, learn some particular nuances, and then do what they do to ensure success. Sometimes it’s a day or two, sometimes it’s a couple weeks or more, but these people work closely together, often for 10 or more hours a day, and then when it’s over, they part ways and may never see each other again. It’s an odd type of relationship building where you get close fast and then break up just as quickly.
Merging so many different personalities can be challenging, as I talked about in episode 59. That was more about dealing with others. Now, I’m asking you to be a bit introspective and figure out which person you are, and whether you’re making it easy for people to work with you or if you’re the one they have to deal with. Are you the one who complains or the one who makes the best out of it? Are you the one who gets stuck or the one who figures it out? Do you care more about yourself or the team? Think about the realistic answer and why you choose to be that way.
The One Who Complains vs the One Who Makes the Best Out of It
I’ve expressed my feelings about complaining here before. While I think it can be important to vent and get things off of your mind, there’s an element of tact that comes into play with how you do it during a job. If conditions are unacceptable, that’s one thing – if you’re being mistreated, put into uncomfortable situations, or something like that, it’s important to speak up. It’s another thing when you just aren’t happy about something and wish it was better. We have to remain professional. If something is wrong, talk to someone privately and calmly and give them an opportunity to make things better. But don’t complain to others and expect the ones who can do something about it to read your mind, and then go at them when things have escalated on your part, even though you never talked to them about it in the first place. All that does is shows the people around a bad side of you, which can unfortunately overshadow all of your good qualities. Nobody wants that.
My main rule with complaining is that you only get to do it once. Beyond that, you have three choices – accept it and move on, find a solution, or walk away. Each has its own repercussions, and I would never recommend walking away from a job just because everything isn’t perfect. And constantly complaining on a job doesn’t really do anything other than make people not want to work with you. To me, the best choice is the one-two punch of making the best of it AND finding a solution.
I’ll use the common example of food to illustrate my point here, because meals always seem to create issues of some sort. If you are onsite somewhere for the day, you need to eat at some point. Hopefully a meal is provided for you, or you are given an appropriate break to go get something. Beyond that, your expectations could get you in trouble. It is impossible to make every single person on a crew happy with one meal. There are so many factors that come into play, such as what’s available in the area, what the budget allows, timing restraints, and things like that. A client-provided meal for a large group probably isn’t going to be eligible for any awards or made by a top tier chef. If you’re lucky, it’ll be good. Sometimes we’re satisfied with edible.
As a vegetarian, I go into every job expecting that I won’t be able to eat. But instead of being high maintenance about it, making demands and whining that my special needs can’t be met, I show up prepared. I bring my own food. It might not be the ideal scenario, but I know it’ll make my life easier if I take care of myself. I do this in my personal life, too. If I’m going to a barbecue, I eat before I go, or I bring something with me so I don’t have to worry about starving. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect anyone, a client or a friend, to make special accommodations for me. I have the choice to eat what’s provided or not.
I just got back from 11 days in Van Horn, Texas. Let me tell you, they do not support vegetarians in Van Horn, Texas. We’re just not on their radar. It’s a small town with very few choices, and when I’m there I’m working long hours and the last thing I want to do at the end of a day is go sit at a restaurant with a bunch of other people, where I can maybe eat a salad if I order it without the meat. No thank you.
So in this scenario, I figured my options were: 1 – accept the situation as is and wish for the best, meaning I could show up every day hoping there was something there I could eat and deal with it. Or 2 – find a solution. Always my favorite option. So, before I even left Vegas, I shipped some food & other supplies to the hotel. Then, I got groceries in El Paso, 2 hours away but that’s where the closest Sprouts was, which I knew would live up to my personal standards. I got a bunch of produce and other fresh food I could keep in my tiny hotel refrigerator. It still wasn’t the same quality meals I’d normally be eating at home with access to my full kitchen, but it was a way to make sure I could get what I needed. And I was happy to do that so I didn’t have to worry about it. I also wasn’t going to create a problem for my client where there didn’t need to be one.
Notice how complaining wasn’t an option I considered? Because what good would that do me? It wouldn’t change the situation and it would just make more people unhappy. No point. The client did provide meals, they just weren’t what I wanted, and that doesn’t warrant a complaint from me. I have higher standards than some, but that’s not their fault. Not to mention food is such a subjective thing anyway. In that crew of 35, every day I heard some people say it was great, some say it was horrible, and a bunch of opinions in between. Again, there’s no way to make everyone happy, but you can make yourself happy if you get over the idea that you’re entitled to everything you want. Changing your mindset from a place of whining about what you don’t have to appreciating what you do have can go a long way.
The One Who Gets Stuck vs the One Who Figures it Out
In any job, you’re bound to come across some issues. Things aren’t working right, you can’t find something, you don’t have everything you need. A lot can go wrong. But when it does, what do you do? Do you go back to complaining and get stuck not making progress? Or do you figure it out so you can move forward? I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to know that I always believe in figuring it out. When people ask that question about what’s your superpower, that’s mine. I figure things out. If someone comes to me and I don’t have an answer, I say , “I don’t know, but I will find out.” It’s the only way I know how to do things and that attitude has gotten me everywhere in my career.
Sometimes it’s just about using your brain to come up with a new way of doing something, or asking other people for help or guidance. There’s also your trusty old friend Google that can help with just about anything. But it seems like sometimes people are happier complaining and they don’t actually want to solve a problem. One of the clients on this job was telling me about someone who, for days, was whining about how he didn’t have a specific type of tape. But he made no effort to get it. There were so many people around who would’ve had that tape and would probably be willing to share it, sell it, or something. We could’ve placed an order, run into town to get some, all kinds of simple solutions but it never got to me or anyone on my team who could’ve helped. I don’t know why. You never want the client observing your lack of ability to get things done. That’s not a good way to be seen.
Finding an answer might take a little extra effort on your part, but it’s better than doing nothing. For example, we were in the middle of an important rehearsal for this event and a vehicle with some of our cameras was missing, so I needed to find them. I had no firsthand knowledge of where they might be, or even who would know, but it was important and urgent so I set out to find them. Staying calm and rational in this type of situation helps a lot as well. I wasn’t going to run around the whole jobsite looking for vehicles that could be anywhere. I knew someone on the crew who had been working with that team, so I asked him. He didn’t know, but he shared the information for the guy in charge. Within a few minutes, I had all the information we needed and everything was fine. I didn’t have the answer, but I figured it out.
And you don’t have to be the one with all the ideas either. A huge perk of having a solid team is that there are other brains around that are going to think about things differently than you would. During this last job I was dealing with all kinds of weather delays and other flight issues while getting the crew to Texas. At one point, someone was stuck in St. George waiting for a flight that kept getting delayed. As I was talking to him, it was clear he’d miss his connection and he wouldn’t be able to get in until the following day, which would put us a day behind, and that wouldn’t be good. I was talking to the PA about what was going on and he suggested that the guy drive to Vegas and catch a flight out from there. As it turned out, the timing was perfect and he was able to get in that evening. I never would’ve thought about that solution, and I made sure he got credit for it, too. The important thing is the success of the project, not who has the best ideas.
Which brings me to my last comparison.
The One Who Cares More About Himself vs the One Who Cares More About the Team
One thing I’m always observing on a set or in other situations is how people act. I’m curious what drives certain behavior. You’ve probably heard me say before that I think it’s important to reclaim selfishness, but what I mean by that is that you have to look out for yourself first if you’re going to be at your best for anyone else. I don’t mean that you should only focus on what you need and forget about everyone else. And you definitely shouldn’t overlook how your actions affect others. No matter what the project is, you’re likely on a team with others and the main goal should be to have a successful outcome. It shouldn’t be about making sure you get everything you want. It’s nice when that happens, but it’s not always realistic.
I think what complicates it for some is that the complaints are perfectly valid. It’s frustrating to be in less than ideal conditions – whether it’s the hours, the food, the accommodations, the weather, or anything else – we all wish they were better. But, a lot of these things are out of our control. In hindsight, it’s easy to look a situation and say well, had we known this, we could’ve done that differently. But you can’t just call an audible and expect instant results when some things need time to happen in the middle of a project.
I like to look at the bigger picture. With a crew of 35, if you only have 3 people complaining, that’s pretty good. It shows you who is there for the team and who is there for themselves. I’m sure there was more talk amongst each other about what wasn’t going well, which is normal. The difference is in how people act after they’ve vented to someone confidentially. You can be annoyed and still be positive. You can be upset that things aren’t better while also still giving your all to your job. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t speak up when there’s a problem, but I do think we should think about how to speak up. Is it an appropriate time? Is it reasonable to expect a change in that moment? Are you putting your own needs ahead of the team’s? If you think it’s the right thing to do, then by all means, say something and see what happens.
I think we all need to be realistic about situations, too. When your client is working the same long hours, eating the same food, dealing with the same conditions, what do you expect to change? It would be different if he was sneaking off to some luxury hotel to eat fancy meals and spend the day getting spa services while everyone else is working. But when he’s the first one in each day and the last one out each day, he’s showing that he’s not expecting anything from anyone on the team that he’s not willing to do himself. That goes a long way and I feel that action deserves some respect. Disrupting other people’s progress because your personal needs aren’t being met comes across as ungrateful and like you don’t care about the job itself. And if you’re just there to collect a paycheck, not to be an integral part of something special, these types of projects probably aren’t the right ones for you.
That being said, we’re all entitled to our feelings and we have to make our own choices about how to react. I just know that, from my perspective, I don’t care if you’re the most talented person in the world at what you do, if you’re not easy to work with, I won’t hire you again. I can work with anybody and remain calm and professional. It’s usually my job to put out fires and I do my best to lead by example, which means staying optimistic, focusing on everything that’s great about a job, and not letting that other stuff get to me. I like to work with people who are similar. The ones who will keep a job fun even under trying conditions. The ones who take pride in their work, but also in who they are. That matters to me.
When you’re self-employed, the way you behave in front of others tells them everything they need to know about you. If you make the best out of situations, find solutions, and work together as a team, chances are those people will hire you for more jobs, at which time you can discuss some of the things that maybe weren’t ideal on the last one. But if you don’t take that tactful approach, if you complain and create problems and don’t focus on what’s important, you’re likely to end up on the list you don’t want to be on – the one that says don’t call this person again. It’s up to you. Which kind of person do you want to be?