Everybody can look stupid from time to time. Inaptitude is much worse. Sometimes the people we trust cannot help us and do not understand the damage they cause. Is it an inevitable evil, or maybe we can do something about it? This article is about inaptitude of others, and a separate post will address our own inaptitude from a very different perspective. You are welcome to read more here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
I personally more than once [after four times I stopped counting] saved my relatives and myself from medical negligence. This means that a person I love would suffer irreversible damage or die if I allowed the doctors to proceed as they planned. Israeli medicine is one of the best in the world, so I fear the global situation is much worse.
Negligence is not limited to doctors. I had to deal with the negligence of attorneys and patent editors who forgot to submit a piece of paper. One of the accountants I worked with was sent to jail for gross negligence. And these happen to be the best most educated professionals with upmost professional ethics.
I am not talking about the inaptitude of policemen, teachers, and civil services. It is naive to expect anything else from someone who has too much work and inadequate salary.
101 handling inaptitude
Before I continue with a more abstract discussion, here are several tips than may literally save your life:
- Know how to provide the first help, or google for it, and provide the minimal first help before the first responders arrive.
- Always google your situation as you wait for the relevant professional authority to help you. At least you will understand the things you are being told and the challenges you face.
- If the situation is serious and delays are dangerous demand premium care. The first responders will tend to calm you down rather than dealing with the situation. In cases of real danger, it is OK to be dramatic and showcase the first responder some possible outcomes.
- Try to ask the professionals how they came to their decisions in your particular case. Typically they would simply address some guidance from professional association he belongs to. A good professional will explain his doubts and why he decided one way rather than the other. If the person addresses his diploma or vast experience, it is a glowing warning sign.
- Google again the judgment call of the person than helped you. If it looks controversial, ask for a second opinion. Sometimes you need to look for the right expert to deal with your issue. Go to someone who can find the right expert and get that expert opinion for you. If needed pay for the expert opinion in writing.
- You might be surprised how cooperative becomes any authority when confronted with fully drafted expert opinion. Most professionals will not respect google, but will still address its recommendations. Your own concerns might not get addressed at all unless you use the correct terminology and arguments.
- Do not generate mayhem, argue with professionals and ask for experts if you do not have to. 95% of the time (or more) you will get a proper professional response without doing anything outstanding. Be sure to be polite and thank the people who help you.
- Do not ask for managers unless you absolutely have to. It is one thing to doubt someone’s judgment and expertise in a particular case, and a totally different thing to question his motives and professional qualification.
- The biggest mistakes will be made by the people with whom you have long relationships and whom you trust. They will tend to go an extra mile to help you, and as a result, will endanger you. They will also tend to get your unconditional trust, and as a result, their mistakes will go undetected. Always try to check those whom you trust.
Facing the mirror
The whole subject makes most of us feel uneasy. People often treat their job as a calling. They sacrifice their sleep, time and security to help others. There is a cover of awe and true appreciation for their job. Yet, we are all people.
The famous recently canonized saint Mother Teresa helped thousands of people in very bad situations. However, she probably was a sadist and the people whom she helped suffered unnecessary pain. She denied painkillers to the people who needed them, but otherwise, she handled more than one humanitarian crisis very professionally.
There is a very big difference between a person who chooses a particular response fully understanding all the consequences and the person who is too afraid to tell he does not have the answers, or even worse is prepared to fight for the wrong answers. In both cases, facing the mirror is an issue both for a person making the judgment call, and the person questioning this call.
In many cases, inaptitude is a direct result of poor education. Our education is not supposed to stop once we graduate from a good university with a prestigious degree, but it is supposed to continue for the rest of our lives. We are supposed to follow the latest trends and to read professional literature. Unfortunately, most people stop learning and changing after some time, using dangerous techniques that have been surpassed with decades.
A very different educational issue is learning for exams. Everybody is so focused on passing exams, getting good grades, being accepted into a good internship or first job… The education needs to focus not just on passing exams, but actually on helping people. Young professionals often do not know how to listen, because nobody taught them. Also, they tend to miss the small trivial things that “do not appear on the exam”, but are very basic for proper professional functioning.
Stress and resources
A very different source of inaptitude is stress. When a person is stressed, his behavior is somewhat unpredictable. Some people feel that they need to do something, but do not exactly know what needs to be done. So they try different things hoping that one of these things will work. It is very dangerous.
Another source of stress is a lack of resources. In the environment of lacking resources, people tend to become creative and bend the rules a bit. Often, the lack of resources also results in a lack of focus, as several critical issues fight for our attention.
In the environment of stress, defocus and lack of resources, errors and excessive risk-taking are expected. One very good trauma doctor told me several years ago: “If I cannot calmly walk to my patient’s bed, running to it will not help”.
Focus on questions rather than answers
People do not enjoy questions and uncertainty. They prefer certainty and answers. Often they tend to ignore pieces of evidence that contradict to their original understanding and generate uncertainty. If there is a common and simple explanation and a rare and complex one, it is only natural to go for simple and common. It is very easy to miss crucial clues pointing towards rare and complex solutions.
Accomplished professionals often prefer to talk about their understandings, rather than listening to concerns of others. Thus they may avoid the situation in which they could find very important details which were missing in the initial description of the situation.
People often tend to miscommunicate their thoughts. The most widely addressed issue is dosage: sometimes intending to write one dosage, the doctor may write a very different prescription. These small errors could be deadly, so it is good that some more eyes check the prescriptions until they get to the client. Unfortunately, not all written communication can be examined equally well.
A very different issue is communication between professionals and their clients. Here, as clients, it is our duty to understand the subject well enough to formulate our needs, respond accurately to the questions we are asked, and evaluate our capability to administer the measures advised.
It is OK to check and double-check the advises we get. Recently I discovered a new trend. People accept all the pieces of advice they get without an argument, and not implementing any of it. This is a very unfortunate form of miscommunication which should be avoided.
Underqualified and overqualified
One of the Parkinson laws claims that a person will be promoted until reaching a level of personal ineptitude. In a stable state, all of the employees in all the organizations will become inept.
Fortunately, this does not happen for many reasons. The readers of my books and courses probably understand that it is our duty to grow when presented with a huge responsibility. Thus we will grow faster than we get promoted. Less optimistic scenarios include politics and being indispensable stopping the very best people from being promoted.
Being overqualified is even worse as the person will tend to treat his work with neglect and will be out of practice in the most basic tasks. Overqualified people will also tend to avoid all criticism and control, creating potentially dangerous issues in the most basic of tasks.
Having a PhD in electronic engineering, I once almost electrocuted a poor technician when I found a mistake in some sloppy wiring. The technician survived because he shouted me to stop as he has children. I listened…
The need to calm down
In the crisis situation people of authority feel a strong need to calm others, and often to shut up the information that can defocus them. While this instinct is often justified, it may result in huge mistakes.
When facing someone in a decision-making position it is nice to be calm, use facts and logical arguments. If we are emotional, we will be calmed down and ignored.
At the same time, some inaptitude is so self-centered, that we need to do something crazy to get the attention. Violence or playing a victim almost never work, but we can use dramatic body language and voice to the point that will require attention.
The person who is inept will still want to regain his dignity. If we do not allow the person to “save face”, we will be met by a group condemnation not only of that person but also everybody who values him. As we usually want to get the correct response rather than prove our righteousness, we should gracefully allow others to keep their dignity.
Any attempts to criticize someone’s behavior, and call his managers, police or ethics will be addressed as an act of war. We will be required to argue and defend our positions. It is much easier to generate understanding with the person we deal with.
There are some exceptions, for example when racism, extreme prejudice or corruption are involved. In that case, the understanding may be impossible and we may have no better choice than to fight for what we find right. Fortunately, such cases are rare in most developed countries.
Do not bend rules
The rules are there for a reason. Quite often we will be tempted to bend the rules, especially with the people we are deeply connected to. This tends to backfire. People who mix professional and emotional responses are inept almost by definition. They can do crazy things for emotional benefits. Probably the worst thing you can do is mixing family and business. But simply asking for cooperation in bending rules can generate a vicious circle of bad decisions worth a Hollywood comedy. The people whom we trust the most will be the most likely to bend rules, so beware…