Question the rule

What’s the problem with asking why any particular rule exists? Why do people ask, “are you questioning my authority?”? What is a policy, how is it different from a rule, and why doesn’t anyone know why the policy is in place?

I get in an unreasonable amount of trouble whenever I ask why a rule exists, typically at a job. Aren’t there reasons for these rules? I learned from Josh McDowell that there are precepts and principles. Precepts are like umbrellas and principles are like drops of rain. The reason why we put (create and enforce) an umbrella (a rule) over our head (in our household/company) is so we don’t get wet (suffer the consequences of breaking the rule). So what’s the reason for (e.g.) wearing dress shoes on a sales job? In most cases, it’s to look professional.

I once had a job where the dress code wasn’t ever enforced. I wore cross trainers to my training in a big city where the big bosses took time to train their salesmen and I wore them around the boss who hired me. It was only when a man came to “train” me that I was informed of the dress code. I expressed my objections to changing my style since it never stopped me from making sales, it wasn’t comfortable, and, my biggest reason of all, professionalism is a convention (like grammar and manners/etiquette). His objection to my first objection was, “it’s the dress code”. His objection to my second point was, “but, it’s the dress code”. He didn’t really understand what my third objection even after I spent a long time explaining it to him. If you’re interested in hearing what I mean, I encourage you to actually comment on this post.

A big reason why I didn’t trust him as someone who should be mentoring me is what happened on the first morning he went into the sales field with me. This first part of this story is funny (maybe in a you-had-to-be-there sort of way – sorry in advance, if it is). I was about to start working the night before on calling sales leads and scheduling appointments when he told me that he wanted to go with me to my first appointment. I protested and said, “what if my first appointment is at 0700?”. He replied, “I don’t care if your first appointment is at 0600, I’m going to go with you.”. I just said, in a dramatic way, “okaaayyy”, realizing that he didn’t understand how dedicated I was to the customer. I called him a short time later after pre-selling a customer who didn’t appreciate the service they received from a different pest control company (whose founder once worked for the company I did). They were definitely going to get better service from the company I worked for and I assured them of this. So I called the mentor and informed him that our first appointment was at 0600… and the location was 2.5 hours away! After he incredulously asked the time repeatedly, and me laughing, almost every time, he finally understood. That’s the end of the beginning part of the story. But the big thing was that I pre-sold them. I don’t think I would have arranged to show up at their house so early if I didn’t know I already made the sale. So, after completing my inspection, calculating the feet around the house, and giving the sales sheet to my (professional) mentor, he gives these farmers (who had plenty of land, cattle, and crops) a 10% discount! Their response, “okay”. Like it was no big deal! It was a big deal to me… but, before I keep ranting about this and sound like I’m complaining and not actually get back to my topic, I’ll just get to my point. He claimed to be professional, but he was definitely not a good judge of a paying customer when he saw one.

At another job, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to post quotes which included statements about truth and Jesus. This was on Federal property, but I was only subcontracted by the Federal government through my employer. So I didn’t get the benefits of the freedom to express myself. I was given the rules so I knew what they were. When my boss tried to tell me that I should take them down, I asked, “why? Did someone complain?”. They said, “it doesn’t matter”. After I said that it did, according to the rule book, they claimed that they were just doing their part to avoid any such conflict that may or may not happen. They also claimed that, as a “non-religious” company, that’s what they thought they should do. That was something that bothered me. If they were “non-religious” then they shouldn’t be saying anything about what goes on my cubicle walls, right? Later, I posted about 10 pieces of paper. On them were numbers which started with 3.14 and continued with 999,998 more numbers. I was told to take these down, too. I mentioned they weren’t religious and asked why I needed to take them down. I was told, “they have nothing to do with your work”. As my boss was turning away, I quickly asked if I could post pictures of my family. He said I could. Then I said, “but they have nothing to do with my work.” But he just got angry and said, “just take them down!”.

So… rules exist for professionalism (sometimes trying to overrule pragmatism) and as a way to keep the truth out – even if no one complains about it. At least these rules existed for those purposes.

Back to the questions at the beginning of this post. I don’t see any problem with asking why a rule exists if I’m going to follow it anyway. Sometimes the person needs to follow it before I tell them why, but I always tell them.

Why do people ask, “are you questioning my authority?”? I think this has a lot to do with the misconception that WE are the objective standard for the rules we enforce. As if WE ARE the rule or we don’t trust the person who is telling us to follow a rule.

It happens a lot, in many retail stores, that, when you need some additional support from them, they’ll deny you this help. If you ask them why, they’ll say, “that’s the policy”. If you ask them why it’s the policy they’ll tell you that they don’t know. Why do we need “policies” that people don’t know the reasons for? If it’s because other customers might abuse the process then say so! But don’t keep this information from the customer. It’s REALLY frustrating.

Anyway, that’s my rant on this subject. If you don’t like it then you’ll need to leave a comment about it… what?! Why can’t you just tell me what you think in person? Because that’s my policy :D. Have fun!

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