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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog
 
  On Being Superintendents  
  by Glen Stoltz    this article appeared in Dec 2003-Jan 2004 issue of Super!  
 

 

The one thing I hate the most about being a super isÖ (drum roll please) other supers.

Now before you start sending me your hate mail, hear me out. Iím probably not referring to you. If youíre the kind of super who is always trying to become a better person -- and by extension a better super Ė then this is not about you. In fact, if youíre reading this youíre probably the kind of person who is always attempting to advance, educate yourself and change for the better, and almost certainly not the kind of super Iím referring to.

Let me explain why I strongly dislike some other supers.

I see it time after time. A contractor, whom I donít know from Adam or Eve, comes into my building with a huge chip on his shoulder. He looks at me like heís already convicted me of a capital crime and wants to execute me for the rest of my life. Why? We never met before. So why does he hate me so much? Or shun me like I have an extra head, or Spock ears? Why would someone I never met until today (yes, this did happen to me) accuse me of having an ulterior motive for locking a door, a door that I always close when I see it open, and one that my buildingís security policy calls for me to do just that? Why does he choose to believe, with no proof or experience with me whatsoever, that I have a mandate and a calling, directly from the super deity, to put him out of business?

Why indeed? Because heís met plenty of supers before me who are parasites of the worst kind. Or extortionists who take the art of the shakedown to extraordinary new lows. Bloodsuckers or sycophants. Some are thieves. Some incompetent. And some are lazy to the point of being useless Ė or worse, they get in the way of others doing real work.

And he, although weíve never met, has already projected those traits onto me, even though Iím none of those things even on my worst days. It makes us all look bad. I donít need any help to look bad. Some days I can do it all by my lonesome with both hands tied behind my back.

I thought of this today because I overheard a contractor, whom I had never met before, whispering to my doorman, asking if I was the super. When he finished, and turned toward me, I was smiling inside and wanted very much to respond to him glibly in some way, but resolved to let this play out as HE wanted it to play out, to better understand his point of view. He chose to say nothing, not knowing that I had understood the conversation just finished. He avoided eye contact or starting a conversation of any kind, like I was the proverbial leper. He seemed afraid of me, but WE HAD NEVER MET. He had a chance to introduce himself to me Ė I was standing right there in front of him Ė but he didnít do it.

This is sad. One of the first orders of business for a super is to smooth the progress of those contractors who work for our residents, whether theyíre a large renovation contractor or a one man window cleaner.  Like it or not, if we donít deal with them upfront and straight up, we will still have to deal with them. It will just be much more troublesome. If we fail to communicate our expectations to them, and arenít as helpful and friendly and open as possible, there will often be more cleaning up to do after them, both literally and figuratively.

I donít know what previous bad experiences this window washer had with supers in other buildings -- and I donít much care. But I didnít like the feeling I got, of being painted with that broad brush, making me feel like Iím just like all the really bad apples out there. And when someone takes it on himself or herself to assume the worst of me because of my profession, it hurts a lot.

Iím not advocating we conform to every whim of how others think we should be, but we should be aware of how weíre seen as a whole segment of the building maintenance field, by a whole other segment of the workforce, with whom we have to make nice daily.

So when someone holds up a mirror to our collective faces, we should open our eyes and examine the reflection closely, whether or not we like what we see, and make those changes that are possible. If we open our eyes and our brains, and shine the brightest light possible on the subject, we can see ourselves as others see us and take something worthwhile away from it, and often learn to do things differently -- and ultimately better.

What does it? What makes a contractor hate a super? Viscerally despise, loathe, look down on, detest him? WellÖ far be it from me to admit to EVER having done anything to make a contractor hate me. Still, I have had the distinct displeasure to spend time around some really bad ones, and one can learn a lot of what NOT to do from those.

A few of the things Iíve learned over the years:

1.  Donít do it for the money. Never let people think that you do what you do only for the money, or the tips. Make everyone believe (because YOU believe it first) that you do what you do, each and every day, for the love of your job and for the great people of your building. Furthermore, always be becoming that kind of person. People donít want to see a hand out each time they spot you approaching. IF you get a tip for something you do, fine. But donít ask for it Ė ever. Not overtly or otherwise. This includes your dealings with contractors as well as residents. And donít feel that itís owed to you for anything youíve done, unless thatís the deal you made before doing the job.

2.  Own your failures as well as your successes. We are fallible. Weak, frail, sometimes pathetic. Even supers in the rarified atmosphere weíre in make mistakes! Be ready to admit, at least to yourself, when youíre wrong, and be willing and able to change your ways of thinking and doing, if circumstances points out to you a better way. A little humility goes a long way.

3.  Donít make others look bad. Donít go out of your way to make someone come across terribly, or to make yourself look better than the other guy. It will backfire and you will end up looking really dreadful. Weíre not always in competition with each other. Or shouldnít be. Make the other guy look first-rate today and he, or someone else, will surely return the favor tomorrow.

4.  Donít play God. You are not the Supreme Being, you never will be, and if you think you are, even for a minute, turn yourself in to the nearest asylum, maybe get that reality check software installed. Sure you have some power as the super; donít abuse it. Donít judge residents or contractors, and donít treat them as though theyíre expendable, like your pawns. No one wants to sense that they donít matter in your overall scheme of things.

5.  Cultivate your senses of humor and wonder. Burnout in this job can kill you, literally. Life is very funny and weird in a strange, sometimes numbing kind of way, but donít take yourself or your job too seriously. Remember the joy in laughter. Donít forget to have fun. Take vacations and long weekends.  Develop and pursue other interests and hobbies, and make the most of your relationships.

Can I change a whole segment of the work force by following these principles? No. I can only change myself, and changing oneself is always slow, and frequently painful. But when you hear from contractors and their employees, with grateful awe on their faces, ďYouíre not like other supers Iíve known Ė youíre very helpful, friendly, accessible, patientÖĒ suddenly itís all worthwhile.

You will know that youíre on the right track. And In so doing youíve done a good thing, not only for yourself and those who work around you and for you, but for all building maintenance workers everywhere. Maybe even for the next generation of supers. Wouldnít THAT be cool?

 

 
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