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Never pass up the opportunity to listen and learn

June 26, 2015
TAGS Business / life
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About six years ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Not fun but not the end of the world. Having lost four of my six brothers at early ages and having had a brother with muscular dystrophy, I feel pretty good about being here at all.

Business is intertwined with the rest of your life. I have learned a lot battling this affliction, and it does have an application to running a business.

Be careful who you listen to. The first doctor I dealt with treated me as if he were a computer repair guy. No emotion. “This is the diagnosis. See you in six months. Try having a nice day.”

I never saw the guy again. My sense that he didn't care was accurate. He was heading off to a new job in North Carolina, and I think I might have been the last new patient he saw before he moved.

The lesson is that when someone acts like a jerk toward you, it may have nothing to do with you: What is going on in their life affects how they treat you. As I have been told a thousand times, don't take it personally.

The doctor who replaced him was worse. She went over my charts and was ready to leave when I told her I had a few questions. She seemed annoyed. I asked her questions about medications, alternative medicine, exercise, etc. I referred to an article I had read in Neurology Today. She told me to write it all down and give her a copy so she could know as much as I did about neurology. I started to ask another question, and she informed me I had a progressive neurological disorder for which there is no cure so I should get used to it.

My current doctor at Mercy Health listens to me and answers questions, and I feel she cares what happens to me.

The lesson here is that no matter what service you need, you can almost always find a provider who will be glad to treat you as you would like to be treated. Remember that and make sure your employees understand it, too. Your competitors love it when you treat your customers with indifference.

Adjusting to limitations becomes interesting. About five years ago, I attempted to remove a trailer hitch from my Ford F150 truck. I couldn't get the nut off the hitch no matter how hard I tried. I blamed my inability on the Parkinson's, with all of the emotional trauma of lost capabilities. Then I asked one of my younger brothers to remove it. He couldn't do it either. After about a gallon of WD40 and the help of another brother, we removed the trailer hitch.

Every problem or failure is not a reflection on your capabilities. Make sure you know the facts before you assign blame. I don't know which is worse: people who blame everybody else or people who blame themselves. How about not blaming anybody at all and fixing the problem without blame-placing? The only reason for assigning blame is to prevent future recurrence of the bad action. Blaming for ego purposes is counter-productive.

Another issue with determining the cause of a problem is if you assign the problem to the wrong cause, you will most likely err in correcting the problem. In fact in all likelihood, you will make the situation worse. The answer to the trailer hitch problem was to get some WD40 and a heavy hammer and break it loose. The problem was not Parkinson's disease. It was rust.

I had an experience fishing out of Stuart, Florida, with my brother-in-law, Doug Lachniet. My intention was to just go along for the ride. He had caught several mahi-mahi when a good-size fish took the bait and Doug handed me the pole and told me to reel it in. I protested that I was not strong enough. He ignored me. Then a shark came after the fish. I reeled faster and successfully brought the fish close enough for the net. I love salmon fishing around Mackinaw Island and now realized from Doug's action that I did not have to give that up.

I had come to the conclusion that I had lost strengths and skills that actually still remained.

At whatever point in life you find yourself, I will bet you are missing opportunities because you think you are not strong enough, old enough, young enough, big enough, smart enough, etc. There were a lot of opportunities I passed up because I did not believe I was capable.

I had an opportunity to observe one of Grand Rapids’ finest medical doctors. Dr. Kevin Foley is a neurologist at Mercy Health and highly regarded in his field. Every business owner should have an opportunity to watch him work. So many talents related to successful business methods are exhibited by Dr. Foley.

He works hard. Too many people think excellence in a field such as medicine is a function of genius. Dr Foley may be a genius, but he also works hard. He is fully engaged in what he is doing.

He asks a million questions — not questions off a list, but questions that will provide him with the pieces of the puzzle he is working on. He digs for facts and timelines. He is determined to find the events, places and times that brought his patient to this condition.

He cares, even if he is not particularly warm and fuzzy. I am not sure he realized I was kidding when I made a comment about how the best guy in his field couldn’t come up with an instant answer. I actually was expressing my respect for him. He does not screw around with guises. He is after the answer — period.

Being retired, I am not going to work tomorrow. If I were, I would try hard to talk less and listen more. There would be no speculating under pressure to guess at answers. Don't talk until you know what you are talking about. What attorney, CPA, stockbroker, etc., would not be way ahead to listen and analyze more before speaking?

If you see someone who possess traits you lack, don't be envious — develop those traits in yourself. There is so much to learn and so little time. I think the first five years of a career should be spent observing good practices.

A person listening gives no indication of their capabilities. Some people dazzle you with their talk. I don't know for sure, but I bet the listener often knows more than talker. I can say that because I have always been a good talker. I wonder how I am as a listener.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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