Eric Herman Blog: THINK Before Bashing Industry

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I need to get something off my chest; hopefully it makes some sense.

Ever since I first came to the pool and spa industry in 1989, a certain social pastime has been a constant part of the scene: industry bashing. Whether in times of difficulty or at the peak of prosperity, knocking the industry has become a preoccupation, if not an obsession for some.

Before I come to the main point, please understand that at times, I've been right there in the thick of it. In fact, part of the challenge with strong critique is that most often it is based on valid or at least arguable reasons. And, indeed, there can be real value in identifying areas where change is needed. Granted.

There is, however, another side to this rhetorical coin. I'll phrase it by way of a few simple questions: At what point does criticism become counterproductive? Where is the line between the constructive and the gratuitous? And when does negativity become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

One of the standing raps against the industry is what many believe to be a lack of professionalism, a condition often attributed to a low threshold of entry into the field. Fair enough, but does it really help to characterize the industry as something akin to the proverbial "aluminum-siding salesman?" If I had a dime for every time I've heard a version of that nugget, well, that would be a whole lot of dimes.

Another common gripe is how the industry lacks quality education. Again, a valid concern, no doubt, but when did complaining ever truly effect change?

Seeing the education issue through a more productive lens, we all might consider offering suggestions for specific seminar topics, or even entire areas of study, rather than moan about the perceived deficiencies in establish programs.

I know a number of people in charge of developing educational programs. I can say that I've never once met someone in that position who wasn't open to suggestions. In fact, for most, they rely on that input to drive their decisions as to which subjects and instructors to include and which to pass by. Will you always succeed in advocating a particular subject? Of course not. But you will register your idea. You might even find that others have offered similar suggestions, or that you've prompted a closer look at a given topic.

And finally, from day one of my tenure in the industry, bashing our national trade association has been like a favorite sport for some. It might help to take a moment to consider the challenging set of tasks APSP faces. The association serves a relatively small, yet diverse membership that at times can be contentious, even quarrelsome. Service techs, retailers, builders and manufacturers lead very different professional lives from each other and have equally diverse sets of needs.In many respects, the single unifying element is water itself. We also know that APSP works with relatively scant financial resources compared to similar associations in larger industries. All of that means it's nigh onto impossible to establish programs that serve all of the membership all of the time. That's not to say we should be satisfied with an imperfect status quo, a rule that applies to all industry associations. By the same token, calibrating our expectations can be useful in identifying areas where we need to improve and how to best achieve positive change.

I've known much of the staff at APSP for years, even decades in some cases. Without reservation I can say they genuinely mean well and want to serve member interests. They wouldn't be in that line of work if they didn't. Tell them what you think, but do so in a way that might actually lead to a positive result rather than simply making someone who is working on your behalf feel bad about their efforts.

Fact is, humans don't respond favorably when under attack. It's common sense; if you want to convince someone of something, don't deliver that argument as an indictment.

I'd like to submit something for your consideration. It's the THINK test. Next time you're considering making a strong statement about the industry, try asking yourself: Is what I'm saying True? Is it Helpful? Is it Insightful? Is it Necessary? And, is it Kind?

You may or may not have ever heard of this pithy method for self-editing; it's been around a while and there are a few different versions. I believe it works because those questions force you to think about how your message will be received by the other party.

In fact, I asked myself those very questions before I wrote this. Did I pass my own test?

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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