Contractor Tip Of The Month: If It Looks like a Duck and It Quacks like a Duck...

Words: Damian Lang

If It Looks like a Duck and It Quacks like a Duck...

Damian Lang

Have you ever dealt with a philosopher? ​ Someone who confuses everything he touches - including a duck with a duck? Then you’ve been the victim of a crime. That’s because this person has taken your most precious commodity - your time. Whether he’s a co-worker, sub-contractor or someone on your payroll, spending time dealing with someone who tries to complicate things by philosophizing, instead of resolving the situation at hand is draining you of something you won’t get back. Time. Time that could be better spent with your loved ones or growing your business. Rachelle and I recently built a new house overlooking two ponds with 13 ducks. While we were building our house, we had some great subcontractors that we worked with. But unfortunately, we also had a ​philosopher on our hands​. This guy was ​so smart​, if I asked him if the 13 ducks on my ponds were all ducks, he’d reply “maybe.” Maybe, because the ducks were different sizes and different colors, so they might not​ all ​be ducks. Therefore, we should probably come up with an elaborate name for each individual duck. What bugged me the most though is that he would never answer his phone when we called to ask simple questions about his end of the job. Then, when I told him I don’t deal with people who don’t answer their phones, he sent me a TWO PAGE email detailing why he couldn’t answer it! And his best line was that his wife would divorce him if he answered his phone every time it rang. Good business sense, right? Finally, after being ​eight months late​ finishing his work (and providing excuses the entire time), I told my project manager to hold payment until he finished the job. And what do you think our philosopher​​ friend did in return? He wrote me yet another letter explaining that I don’t trust him and therefore I wouldn’t pay him when he finished. With his promise to complete the work ​the week after​ I cut the check for everything he had done to-date (and being exhausted from the back-and-forth letters)​, I told my PM to pay him the $12,000 being held and trust that he would hold up his end of the bargain. Guess what? We cut that check over a year ago. And he still hasn’t finished. If I asked him why, I bet he would write me another four page letter explaining what happened over the last 12 months that prevented him from finishing ​a three-day project​. In fact, I bet this guy has more time in writing emails and procrastinating over this project than he would have had in just doing it. And, it stills needs to be done! I’ve finally figured out the difference between the philosopher​​ and myself. When he looks out my kitchen window, he sees 13 different ducks. But regardless of what he says to twist the situation around, when I look out my window, those ducks are still damn ducks. On one hand, I feel very lucky with this guy. Why? He doesn’t work for my company. So when the project is finally finished, we can part ways once and for all. If you’re dealing with someone who complicates every subject you discuss, you may also have a philosopher​ on your hands. For ​in his mind​, there is much more to a situation than at first glance. And if the​ philosopher​ is in a leadership position, it’s even worse...
  • He may intentionally confuse a situation so he can fix it and come out as the shining star.
  • He will often keep those who report to him from talking directly to his superiors as they may expose his weaknesses.
  • He often looks down on the people in the trenches as he is so much smarter than them.
  • When meetings are held, he does most of the talking for his team - so no one says anything that he doesn’t approve of.
People are both protected and controlled by the ​philosopher​. He gives them only enough information to complete their next task. If he were to give them more, he would not be able to do the thinking for them (and then take credit for it). If this rings true in your workplace, I’m sorry! There’s probably a lot of CYA going on. I.e. Through his supreme talent of manipulating any and all situations, the philosopher ​​intimidates the rest of the staff until they’re under his control. If you suspect there’s a philosopher in your midst (and want to make sure), try asking him a straightforward question. If he replies:
  • “This is where it gets a little confusing.”
  • “Let me think about that and get back to you.”
  • “I need to talk to George first, as he may have a different opinion on the matter.”
  • “We have issues we need to work out before I can answer that question.”
Then you probably have a philosopher on your hands.​ Check back next month to see what to do about it. For now, remember that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Make sure your team knows to keep things simple, so they will call that spade a spade and move on.   Damian Lang owns and operates several companies in Ohio. He is the inventor of the Grout Hog-Grout Delivery System, Mud Hog mortar mixers, Hog Leg wall-bracing system, and several other labor-saving devices used in the construction industry. His latest venture is Malta Dynamics Safety Company that focuses on bringing quality safety products to construction customers at the best possible prices. He writes for Masonry Magazine each month and consults with many of the leading contractors in the country.  
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