child building with interlocking building blocks

Just…

Some­times I won­der why I use the book­marks fea­ture of any web brows­er. Aside from keep­ing a list of quick-access web­sites in my book­marks bar, any oth­er book­marks end up in a fold­er with hun­dreds of oth­er sites which I’ll like­ly nev­er actu­al­ly get back to.

I thought I’d do a bit of curat­ing of my book­marks, and I came across this brief bit of advice called “Just.”

The author, Brad Frost, lament­ed the respons­es he’d receive on Twit­ter when ask­ing for tech help because, as he describes, they often tend­ed to assume things about his knowl­edge by pre­sent­ing answers in an over-sim­pli­fied man­ner intro­duced by the word “Just…”

Rather than being help­ful, those answers made him feel like an idiot, as if he was lack­ing what oth­ers seemed to con­sid­er to be fun­da­men­tal under­stand­ing of a topic.

Back when I book­marked the thing, I’m sure I did so with the hope that apply­ing the advice to ban “just…” over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, I’d be a bet­ter writer when it came to top­ics of blog­ging, code, and even religion.

How­ev­er, the “just…” short­cut is far more uni­ver­sal, show­ing up in every man­ner of conversation. 

When I was still new to my job in retail, I remem­ber watch­ing my cowork­ers — who often had sev­er­al years of expe­ri­ence — inter­act­ing with the cus­tomers thus: “It’s just on that end­cap,” “It’s just that the item is not-trait­ed for our store,” and so on.

Inevitably, there would have to be more expla­na­tion giv­en to explain the ter­mi­nol­o­gy being used, and it was­n’t hard to miss the frus­tra­tion in the faces of cus­tomers when work­ers would explain things to them in a way which pre­sup­posed that the cus­tomer under­stood the fun­da­men­tals of retail. I did my absolute best from an ear­ly peri­od to speak to cus­tomers in a way which ignored the lan­guage of retail and instead pre­sent­ed answers to them in a way which was acces­si­ble to them, regard­less of what their back­ground might be.

I’ve now been a super­vi­sor at my job for (holy cats…) near­ly four­teen years, and I have helped train (either ini­tial­ly or as fur­ther train­ing) many peo­ple. The “just…” short­cut makes its way into train­ing all too often, often lead­ing to unsat­is­fac­to­ry work per­for­mance or frus­trat­ed employ­ees who lack the con­fi­dence to do as good of a job as they’d like to do.

With­out exag­ger­a­tion, when I became a super­vi­sor, my “train­ing” for the job con­sist­ed of one sen­tence: “Here’s your depart­ment, and if you have any ques­tions, just ask Michelle, your neigh­bor [in the next depart­ment over].” I strug­gled those first two years, rarely man­ag­ing to actu­al­ly please the man­age­ment over my area. I can’t help but won­der if ade­quate train­ing cou­pled with clear expec­ta­tions would’ve made any difference!

Hav­ing come across “Just” again tonight in my book­marks, I’m sad­dened by just how much it sticks out that I’ve fall­en into the “just…” habit with the folk I super­vise. Hav­ing explained how to fix a miss­ing time clock punch or how to prop­er­ly build an end cap or how to deal with a spill or what­ev­er else has become so blasé, and I nev­er even noticed.

I’m not one for mak­ing res­o­lu­tions for new years, and I’m cer­tain­ly not one to keep res­o­lu­tions when I do make them, but this is an impor­tant mat­ter, not (heh) just for my job itself but for those around me who do look to me for accu­rate and thor­ough expla­na­tions. I don’t want to be guilty of the same “train­ing” which was once giv­en to me so long ago!

I hope to, in 2018, become a bet­ter train­er and a bet­ter explain­er by ban­ish­ing the “just…” atti­tude. It is a lazy short­cut which does noth­ing to enable under­stand­ing in my listeners.

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Rick Beckman