Saturday, 13 April 2013

Squeaky Wheels

Despite a quantitative personality and active efforts to achieve the contrary, The Spear somehow now finds himself in a position involving the management of human resources.  Needless to say he finds the management of people somewhat of a challenge, given that he struggles to maintain the officious decorum seemingly demanded of ‘normal’ mammal-to-mammal communications at the best of times, let alone in the workplace.  Yet despite this preference for numbers over nuance, he has been able to pick up on one piece of overwhelming truth while in this position; the squeaky wheel definitely gets the grease.

People don’t like being annoyed.  Loud noises are invaders of our tranquil, peace loving minds – they steal our ability to hear our own thoughts.  Our brains seem biologically programmed to let alarms override our stream of thought, instigating out flight-or-fight mode to urgently respond to alarms as a base survival mechanism. 

The corporate world has been quick to hijack this response mechanism.  A ringing phone, a text message, an email notification, a reminder, somebody shouting at you: these are all essentially alarms of some sort.  During a standard work day, a worker in a reactive role may be ‘alarmed’ hundreds of times.  Entire days are spent ‘putting out fires’ so to speak, living in the moment as if in a battle. 

Some people have likewise developed the skill of ‘squeaking’ to achieve an end.  While others suffer in silence, the Squeaker squeaks away, hijacking the minds of those who can potentially give them what they want.  Where the silent type relies on a naive faith in a ‘fair world’, in which resources are deployed on a merit-based or a first-come-first-serve basis, the Squeaker - ever the persistent ‘pain in the neck’ – knows that fairness is a luxury of abundance, and that in its absence, applying pressure pays.

Christmas day 2012; The Spear had just arrived at an airport to catch a connecting flight, only to be told that his flight had been cancelled and that he would have to wait for the next flight in 4 hours.  He asked the attendant if there were any earlier flights, but she said ‘no’, and that check-in had just closed on an earlier flight.  The Spear said ‘ok’, taking the stoical approach that as there was nothing he could do about it, there was no need to get angry, and accepted that he would be late for the family Christmas lunch.  It sucked, but he put up with it.

A woman and her young son then approached the counter and were told the same thing, but where The Spear folded, the woman squeaked.  Calling it ‘unacceptable’, because her and her son would miss the family Christmas gathering (as if this was a circumstance unique to her on Christmas day), she applied the pressure of the squeaky wheel to the attendant – raising her voice and waving her arms, demanding to speak to a manager and, in all, doing everything she could to invoke the ‘alarm response’.  And it worked.  The attendant checked for spare seats, made some calls, and the woman and her son were rushed through to the departure gate.

Witnessing this scene in a state of shock and awe, the very fabric of his belief system being torn to shreds, The Spear quickly walked up to the attendant and asked if he could also be put on the earlier flight.  But alas, no, the squeaker and her son had apparently pinched the last two seats on the flight, and The Spear was told that he had missed out.  But then again, The Spear may simply not have been squeaking loudly enough, as she didn’t even go through the motions of pretending to check for any other spare seats.

The problem with squeakers is that, while they do elicit the deployment of resources, they do not necessarily have them directed to the right places.  Unlike wheels, human squeakers, or perhaps more fittingly, squawkers, largely do not squeak from a position of need, but rather of want.  While a squeaky wheel implies a lack of grease, a squeaky person often implies nothing more than a lack of respect for the wants and needs of others.  Unless driven to the point of insanity, people squeak when they choose to; wheels squeak when they must.

Habitual squeakers can however be their own worst enemy in the long run.  When applied to the same target numerous times, their constant pleas for aide can see them labeled as wolf-criers.  It is just a pity that most serial complainers don’t stay put for long enough to allow for identification and consequent filtering of their complaints to the backburner.

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