Presume Incompetence

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Presume Incompetence

I have a rule I operate by whenever I do business with anyone. It might sound a little strange when you first hear it, but over the years it's provided me plenty of money, helped me to avoid mountains of stress, and yielded hours of saved time.

It applies when I work with anyone in any capacity. Employees, clients, vendors, subcontractors, partners, it doesn't matter. I apply this rule to everyone when I work with them for the very first time.

Here's the rule: I presume, in advance, that they're going to be incompetent. That's right. I expect them to screw everything up, not do what they say they'll do, and finish their project late, if at all. I presume they will require a substantial about of babysitting and hand-holding. I presume they're going to make all kinds of mistakes and even screw up existing systems, requiring me to clean up their mess.

That sounds terrible! What a negative attitude I must have!

Actually, it's quite the opposite. What always ends up happening is one of three things:

1. They turn out to be just as incompetent as I thought. But since I planned for this scenario, this is okay. I'm not shocked or angry or stressed. I don't go over budget, and don't finish any of my projects too late. They proved to be inadequate, just as I expected and had planned for accordingly.

2. They're incompetent, but not as severely as I expected. They screw a few things up but most of the work they do well. It's a nice, pleasant surprise. It takes less work than I planned on to get the project finished. I'm happy.

3. They actually turn out to be competent, and it's a huge surprise. My work gets done much faster and easier than I anticipated, and I'm happy. I make a note to work with them again if I ever need their services.

Now think for a minute and compare this to what most people do. Most people, when they first start working with someone, assume in advance the person will do exactly what he/she says they'll do, when they say they'll do it, and will do it with a minimum amount of problems or hassle. Um...how often does that happen? Seriously. Yeah, like...almost never.

These same people get all pissed off and stressed out. They assumed competence. I assume incompetence. While those folks are furious and stressed and screaming at everyone, I'm kicking back with a smile on my face, since my project has proceeded as I planned.

Next time you start working with a new individual or company, give this a try. Assume they'll be terrible, screw everything up, and take double the amount of time you planned on. Then no matter what happens, you'll be covered.

This article was originally published on February 13, 2014
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