I like to win, and I hate being wrong.
Especially in high-stakes situations. Being wrong about some fact that you were trying to sell your wife on is one thing (bad move, by the way; your wife is always right), but being wrong on a witness stand is quite another.
I’m not sure which is actually worse. Your wife will probably never let you live it down, but from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty humiliating to look the fool in front of a courtroom full of people.
The first time I was called to testify in court was a long time ago, when I was still a floor covering installer. I was asked to testify as an “expert” since I had a few years of hard surface flooring installation under my belt, augmented by my attendance at a few industry-sponsored schools. I was incredibly nervous. Attorneys for both sides asked me questions and I answered them honestly and to the best of my ability. My testimony went well, but I learned a really valuable lesson that day.
Prior to taking the witness stand, I had to wait outside the courtroom. Following my testimony, I was allowed to stay in the courtroom and watch the rest of the proceedings. That’s where it got interesting. The man who testified after me was a local county building inspector, and apparently his testimony was being offered in an attempt to discredit what I had said.
But there was a problem: he was wrong. Wrong about almost everything he said, including facts about his jurisdiction and specifics about building codes — and that was the easy stuff. There isn’t a powerful enough word to describe just how wrong he was with the more complex questions. He wasn’t lying; he simply didn’t know the answers. But instead of admitting that he didn’t know the answers, he made them up; kind of like I do with my wife.
Unfortunately, the opposing attorney wasn’t as forgiving with the building inspector’s creative answers as my wife is with mine. He shredded that poor building inspector on the witness stand that day. I honestly thought this grizzled old man was going to cry. I determined then and there that I would never allow myself to be humiliated like he was.
Let’s fast forward a few years. I had started my own company for cleaning and installing carpet, along with some minor water damage restoration. I remember working with a claims manager who told me that I needed to document my files. Being new not only to business, but to doing work with insurance companies, I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked.
She told me that there would come a time when I found myself at odds with a customer or an adjuster, and that every once in a while those disputes could actually wind up in court. Then she said something that has stuck with me to this day. She said that when it comes down to settling a dispute, “He who has the notes, wins.”
My mind immediately went back to that day in court and the memory of that humiliated building inspector. Now, understand that notes wouldn’t have helped him—he was just making up his answers. But if there is ever something I can do to help myself win and avoid being wrong, then sign me up.
So, I started taking notes. Then I took a class on how to manage and document my time, which, in the days before computers and databases and CRMs, meant taking a lot more notes.
As I moved further into restoration work, I took even more notes. Notes about what conditions were like at the job site. Notes about what the customer said. Notes about what the insurance adjuster said. Notes about what my employees said. Notes about what I said. I was on the phone one day with an insurance adjuster and noticed a clicking noise from her end. When I asked her about it she replied, “I’m typing notes about our conversation.” Ha! I thought. She’s trying to win. I told myself I needed even better notes.
Today, there are some very good job management software programs that not only advance note-taking, but take job and client management to a whole new level. With tools like these available, there is simply no reason not to have well-documented files.
Over the years, my note-taking has served me well. It always makes me smile when I can say, “Hold on, let me refer to my notes. On the first of last month at 11:58 am, you told me…”
Like I said, I like to win.
Bill Prosch, CR, is a Business Development Adviser for Violand Management Associates (VMA), the largest consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Prosch is a leading expert in operations and a Certified Restorer. He has a deep understanding of entrepreneurial challenges having owned and operated a successful restoration company for more than 30 years. Through Violand, he works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit violand.com or call (800)360-3513.