Communication and the Trashcan of Doom

Mr TrashcanEach day at BNC I’ll face all sorts of different challenges and I love that! I need tasks and projects that push me out of the comfort of the known. That’s where I meet Jesus walking on the water. And most challenges I face as staff at BNC I did not face at Wyandot – mostly due to the differences between a corporation and a church.

There is this one, however, that has persisted over the last 22 years. (Wow that seems to put reality to my age) That would be communication.

I bet (not real money ‘cause that would be gambling) that 90% of the problems we all experience could be quickly resolved with proper communication and action taken based on that communication. I wish I could quantify this statistic so I could actually use it and quote it. But as of now it’s a hopeful figure.

As a software developer at Wyandot my role was to create computer software to solve business problems. Generally speaking, communication wasn’t a problem. In fact it was quite the opposite! Communication happened pretty quickly when a piece of software I had written was not working right and had failed. As you can imagine, if something wasn’t working right, my coworkers were quick to let me know there was a problem!

Where some might not prefer that, I loved that model! “Let me know as soon as possible that there’s a problem so that we can work together to get it fixed.” There’s something energizing about working together on a problem with a common goal of solving it. Honestly, relationships emerge stronger out of times of problem solving! You learn from and about each other and you communicate during the process of discovering the solution.

Sadly, I can also recall times when communication broke down. This happened more often than I cared for. Most times we could work out the problems and move forward without too much drama. There was only one incident that sticks out in my mind because of how dramatic it ended up being and really didn’t need to be.

I had designed a package of software for one of my coworkers and installed it. They began using it and when I asked how things were going with it, they responded that the system was working just fine. Now this is really odd. In my experience, the first go around with a new app usually results in a few bugs being discovered – things I never anticipated. But my coworker insisted all was good with it. In reality, however, it wasn’t. And why they choose not to make me aware of the problems, I’ll never understand. At any rate, they never communicated the problems to me and I was left in the dark.

Months later, in a meeting, my fellow coworker decided they’d had enough. They were tired of holding in all their frustration with the software not working over several months and thought a public meeting was the best place to air it all out in the most unprofessional way.  My coworker unloaded!

I was left sitting there, bushwhacked, unaware of any of the problems, and unable to speak.  You could have heard an ant fart in the moments following…that is if an ant could fart.

Eyes and ears were turned to see what my reaction was going to be. My only thought was to say as little as possible so that I could escape and hide! I replied simply with one simple statement.

“It was not communicated to me that there existed any problems. I’d be glad to meet one on one and discuss them.”

That settled things for the moment and the meeting continued as usual after that. At the conclusion of the meeting, I immediately went to my coworker’s office to discuss the problems with the software.

The problems, in reality, ended up being only one problem. Not plural. Just one. And the problem was not the convoluted mess that was described in the meeting – it was really quite simple. I had it fixed in about 30 minutes.

I walked away from that experience dumbfounded. My coworker had stewed and thought on that problem for so long that it grew to be something so huge so big that it was all they could see and caused them to lash out in the middle of a meeting! All of it could have been avoided with a 3-minute phone call and 30 minutes of work fixing it!

Holding problems in and internalizing them is like a trash bag wrestling match. Hang with me…I promise this will make sense!

I have a bad habit – which Nicky really hates – of stuffing the trash bag so full that I have to pull a WWF wrestling move on it to get the bag out of the can. Let me paint the picture.

In this corner weighing in at a measly 140 pounds is the challenger, Randy Macho Man Trashcan Stuffer! And in this corner, the reigning champ, The Overstuffed Trashcan of Doom!

My first move is to swiftly wrap both feet around the bottom of the can in hopes of pulling the bag out in one motion. When that fails, and it often does, I move onto more physical measures! I wrap one leg around the trashcan and wedge the other side against the kitchen wall while I moan and groan in a feeble attempt to extract the trash bag from the can. In most cases, The Overstuffed Trashcan of Doom yields and the bag comes free – no mess! This move often works except in times of extreme stuffing.

This is where it gets ugly.

At this point I refuse to admit defeat! While Nicky is in my corner rationally advising me to move some of the trash into another bag to lighten the bag in the can, I’m planning my finishing move on the can! I’m so blinded at this point; rational isn’t even in my language. I’m just grunting and groaning at this point in caveman-like fashion!

The finishing move looks something like this – the trashcan and I down horizontal on the floor. Both my legs are wrapped around it while both hands and teeth are frantically pulling at the bag to get it out of the can! At this point something quite awful usually happens. As the Overstuffed Trashcan of Doom begins to relinquish its control over the bag, the bag begins to tear and bust. But at this point I’m so not aware of that and don’t really care. Victory is in my sights! In the last burst of strength I have left, I’ll pull the bag out and stand to my feet with the bag held high in victory…only the bag is half empty, with garbage all over the place.

Nice! Love to have rotten banana peels mixed the egg shells and coffee grinds topped off with the science experiment from the back of the fridge smeared into my hair and the kitchen floor.

Nicky just stares and wonders why she married me!

It’s the same way in our lives. Nicky and I learned early on in our marriage that we couldn’t stuff things in like that. If there were problems or expectations we had for each other that weren’t being met, we made a habit of making sure we communicated them as quickly as possible so that we’d avoid the Trashcan of Doom wrestling match. And in most cases the problems and expectations were minor and easily dealt with because they weren’t given the opportunity to gain a foothold and grow into more than what they needed to be.

We found that if we did stuff things in, eventually we’d both reach the overstuffed state and explode on each other. What was left was a word picture of the wrestling match I described above – garbage was all over the place and we had to pick it up as we made amends.

In church, it’s no different. We are one really big family! And just like any other family there will be conflicts, disagreements, expectations, and problems. And if these are never properly communicated, but stuffed down inside, then no one is ever made aware of them! And eventually what was stuffed inside finds its way out in unpleasant ways. None of us can read each other’s mind. God didn’t make us that way. God made us to communicate with each other the problems that need addressed and the expectations that need to be met. God made us to work together as we struggle through conflicts and disagreements. If we stuff them in, eventually there will be a wrestling match with the Trashcan of Doom!

Let’s avoid that! It’s ugly! Instead go to each other in honest, open, face-to-face communication. And if something needs brought up to staff, we are here to listen and address concerns, problems, and unmet expectations. But just like the situation at Wyandot, we can’t help if it’s not communicated.

Here’s my hopeful statistic in a slogan you are free to use.

“Communication. It fixes 90% of your problems.”