Saturday, July 29, 2006

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

Most of us have a lot of people making demands on us to do things, to expend time or effort on their behalf, and we have to prioritize these things. Consider two kinds of people who are making demands on my time.

The first one is always demanding and never considerate. Everything she asks is urgent priority. She never values my time, but instead dumps as much on me as she can without putting in any effort herself to make it possible for me to use my time more efficiently. She expects both small things and large things with equal insistence. And if I do more for her, the rate of demands does not decrease; it actually increases.

The second is always considerate and courteous. He tries to find his own ways to do things whenever possible. When he makes requests, he does not call them all top priority; he saves that for the few things that really are. He spends some time beforehand ensuring that his request is complete, allowing me to act as efficiently as possible on it. He's always grateful for what I can do, and while he may remind me on things I didn't do, he's never shrill or nagging.

Naturally, I tend to prioritize his requests over hers, and in the long run, perhaps as a matter of encouraging courtesy and respect, and perhaps just because of the efficiency of it, I'll do more for him than I will for her. (Which will only make her even more shrill as she feels neglected.)

I always try to be the second type of person myself. I'm very careful to think in the long term, to think things through, and to make sure if I make a request of someone, it's not artificially inflated in urgency, it's as complete as possible, and it's carefully envisioned to be the widest wedge: that is, to get the most bang for me out of the least time invested for the person I'm asking.

Somehow, though, it seems in every case, with every person and in every situation, I end up getting the short end out of it. My requests are passed over because I didn't scream "urgent" every time; I end up waiting longer than the squeaky wheels, and getting a more superficial job done with my requests, even though I took pains to provide a very complete and concise statement of what would be best. And in the end I always feel like people resent my intrusions more even though I've gone to so much more effort to make them rare, courteous, and non-intrusive. So I come out being more resented for my requests and getting less, always lowest on everyone's priority lists.

This isn't any single person or situation I'm thinking of as I write this, though I could list dozens of examples. The point of this post is to observe a common theme. Do I really have to get more obnoxious, demanding, and wasteful of everyone else's time to get anything done and to stop being resented? Everyone imagines they do, or at least try to do, more for the polite people... which makes it so much harder to get them to really realize that they don't. But it seems pointless to wait for the world to become sane around me. Maybe I should just join the insanity.

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