I have a theory of human dynamics that I’ve always found to be true. No matter how old we are chronologically, human interaction, particularly within the work environment, never evolves past the social dynamic of the average kindergarten class. In other words, although our phraseology may become more sophisticated aren’t many of the managerial issues that we deal with on a daily basis really just variations on the same themes—“She got more then me”, “No, it’s mine”, and “I’m telling—that we dealt with as kids? For example, that weasel who just sent you that snotty email, where he copied half the company, about an issue you could have solved in two minutes face to face, is really just the same kid who used to tell the teacher you were “being mean” all grown up. You wanted to punch him in the head then and you still do now. But now you’ve got a wife, kids, a dog and you also realize that “heavyweight champion of the accounting department” on a resume doesn’t exactly get hiring managers lunging for the phone. So what to do when you receive an email, or are confronted with an issue, that deserves a simple, two word, declarative response but are now too old to engage in such viscerally satisfying, yet career threatening, behavior?
I suggest the “Irish Waste Bin” (since it was an Irishman who first described it to me) method. This mode of issue-related triage was taught to me be a friend who had spent years working in international operations. Now you can imagine how difficult the types of issues that we are discussing were for him since he typically had the element of nationality overlaid on top of them—“That French guy isn’t sharing”, “The Germans say its their department”, and “I’m telling Brussels”. I shudder every time I think about it. So my friend developed the wastebin method as a way to cope with this adolescent, nationalistic, “hold my breath until I turn blue” behavior.
Under the wastebin paradigm, every time my buddy receives an email that would ordinarily result in his laptop becoming a lethal projectile, he takes out a piece of paper, writes out the issue and then crumbles the paper up and throws it in his trash can. After the basket became full, which for him, like most of you, takes maybe a day—tops—he initiates the second phase of his methodology. In phase two, he reaches into the basket, unwads the paper, and re-reads the issue that he had written down. If, after this “marinating period”, the issue is found to be important he civilly replies to the person that sent it. What he has found is that in exercising this mode of “prioritization by rubbish bin” (did I mention he was Irish?) is that 90% of his refuse turns out to be non-issues. In these cases, he has found that he is typically being asked to respond to the ravings of someone who is not employing the wastebasket methodology. It’s kind of like they are so mad at the dog that they kick the cat (Note: no dogs or cats were hurt by the inclusion of this metaphor for misplaced aggression).
I’m not going to lie to you. Adopting the Irish Waste Bin method for determining issue severity does require some forethought and preparation. I recommend two baskets, one for your regular garbage, and one for the triage trash. I learned this from by experience when I reached my hand into the single basket I originally used for everything and ruined a perfectly good shirt. Feel free to introduce your own variations. “Whatever works”, as they say. I think we can all agree that this is a much more civilized approach to resolving our daily managerial issues than pulling someone’s pigtails or throwing sand in their eye.