Don’t waste my… time

From the Archives

Originally published February 5, 2013

There’s a line in “Heat” (starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino), in which Pacino’s cop character yells – as only Pacino can – at an informant from the underworld about wasting his time. Expletives aside, it glaringly came to mind when a mild-mannered colleague very politely expressed this very sentiment to someone with whom we were engaged in a phone conference a few weeks ago. Today’s page comes from the book of one Nancy H., the soft-spoken and sharp-minded CPA who is helping shape growth at an area non-profit where I serve. Her message? “Don’t waste my time.”

Nancy, another consultant, and I were on a conference call with our retirement plan administrators. The three of us were new to the plan and its problems, and the two plan reps were growing frustrated trying to explain it all in a way we could grasp and run with it. About 30 minutes into the call, the supervising rep said, “We’re not going to accomplish anything on this call.” Without batting an eyelash or skipping a beat, Nancy delivered her cool, collected response, “We’re going to accomplish something on this call.” No inflection. No tone. No attitude. Just a quiet, humble rebuttal.

I heard some other rumblings from her after that statement. She went on about copious notes she was taking and needing to understand the problems and I’m not sure what else. I was still reeling over that delivery, and I cannot clearly say whether I was impressed with the way she delivered that first comment midway through the call or with all the meanings I associated with it.

She said, “We’re going to accomplish something on this call.”

I heard, “Maybe YOU won’t get anything out of it; WE are going to tackle some action items on this call.”

And I heard, “Really? Seriously? That’s your attitude? Stop talking; the rest of us are trying to WORK.”

And I probably heard, “You’ve got to be kidding. I can’t believe you just said that. Can you BE more negative?”

Ultimately, I heard, “I just put 30 minutes of my LIFE into this problem. Don’t waste MY time!”

All she said was, “We’re going to accomplish something on this call.”

Needless to say, it impressed me not only that we continued for another 30 minutes or so, but also that Nancy made more notes, recapped in less than five minutes as we concluded call, and had a tidy list of action items for follow-up before we ended the call. In short, we accomplished SOMETHING on that call. Share in comments your stories of people who thwart the negative around them as if the negative never even happened.