It hit me while I was on a press trip to Geneva, Switzerland: all of these people walking with me on the downtown street, gazing at the window fronts, sipping coffee near frosted windows, didn’t have a clue about I how I lived my life in Alabama.
And I, in turn, had no clue how they lived theirs.
I could see the outside markers of their lives – the numerous bank buildings, ubiquitous Swiss Army knives (which were cheaper in the United States, by the way), the stylish way women twisted scarves around their necks – but I didn’t know their world. And it would have taken me many deep dives getting to know people to get a true sense of it.
Back here in the states, as I start to interview our Contractor of the Year finalists, the last thing I need to do is to assume I know their world. This program has been going on since 2000, so the process is familiar.
I arrange a site visit, which could be at a finalist’s office or on a job, especially if their work is some distance from home base. And I take all the necessary reporting tools – digital recorder, notepad, camera, and in the past few years, a video camera – along with a list of questions. In short, all the resources I need to record and evaluate.
But, really, the most valuable gear I take into those interviews is my ability to observe and listen. Just because a finalist does site development work doesn’t mean he or she is just like the other 10 finalists I’ve interviewed who do the same work.
During the 13 years of this program I’ve interviewed contractors with well-designed offices … and those who worked from a parked RV. There have been the gregarious and the monosyllabic, some who question why I’d ever what to interview them, and others who proudly display every recognition throughout their hallways. I’ve toured fields of dreams – historical construction equipment collections, windmill farms, planes and landing strips.
It’s their world, and it’s my responsibility to not assume I know all about it when I walk on their jobsite.