Let's go back to my inbox for this post...
"I need your help. As you know, it's been a cold, damp spring. The golf course wasn't great for Memorial Day. And as I write this on June 4th, it's just barely starting to come around. The comments I am getting from golfers are really bad. "When are you going to fix this place", is the tone of their gripes. I've talked to everyone, blogged about it, written about it and I'm still getting hammered. Any tips?"
This has been more common in the spring of 2019, but nearly every year, I get a bunch of these. In whatever climate. Be it a rough overseed situation, or a slow spring, or a project that has expectations, it happens. And as written above, let's assume that you've done the basics as far as communication goes. One would think that they would get it. But they often just don't pick it up.
Here, you have to muscle up and embrace the fact that there is more work to be done. Here's my list:
1. Don't Be defensive. Our relationship to our turfgrass is one of a very personal nature. You know the place. And you know damn good and well that it isn't where it should be. You know it better than they do. So when they come to tell you what you already know, you can't be deflective and it can't openly piss you off. Step closer to that person. Look them in the eye. Keep your hands to your side, don't cross your arms. Or put your hand in front of your mouth. Breathe easy. Let them vent. It can't kill you. It hurts, but it can't kill you. Resist the temptation you are feeling in your gut to grab their fancy new driver and throw it in farther than they can hit it.
2. Speak agreement. It sounds silly, but when you agree with someone, you diffuse their bomb. Even if they are clearly wrong, at least acknowledge that you hear them. Be open. "Yes, Mrs. Fourputt, I understand and I am just as concerned as you are." Simple.
You know it better than they do. So when they come to tell you what you already know, you can't be deflective.
3, Control the moment. Vernon Van Der Wedgeflop III is used to controlling his world. And he'd like to control yours. But you don't have to let him control that moment. "Sir, I'm on my way to check on some of my crew's work, and if I don't get there now, it could be a problem. Can we talk after your round?" Give yourself some time to cool off, after Vern just declared your greens the worst they have ever been. If Mr. Complainiak catches you at the clubhouse, again, control the moment. Invite him to your office for a chat. Have water or coffee ready and let him sit in front of your desk or let him stand in the middle of the chaos and see how much you have going on. The key point is that the hard shove the words you get from someone doesn't need you to react right then. In fact, if you do, you are giving away your power.
4. Invite them to see your world. The habitual complainers usually have zero point zero percent idea what you really do. Invite Yapper Man to join you at 5am for your first loop around the course. If your whole greens or advisory committee doesn't get it, have the next meeting at the shop. Or on the course. Stay out of the board rooms and away from the bar for these conversations. We are famous for telling everyone that our offices are great. So meet them there. Again, on your terms. Educate them in how much you see that they don't or won't.
5. Employ your allies. You have people that you like. You see them on the course and they always have a smile and a wave. Talk to them. Tell them that you appreciate their positive attitude and ask if they can help. "Hey Dr. Kildare, Dr. Tracy just talked to me and he hates the golf course right now. You know that we've had a really hard spring. Would you mind saying a few positive words to him. I think it would be better coming from you than always from me". Bingo.
5.2 Find the Ty Webb. Every course has one. Somewhere. The person that everyone respects and believes and secretly wants to be. It may not be the best golfer or a golfer at all. At one of my jobs, it was the bartender. At some places, it's the locker room attendant. It can be everyone's favorite server in the restaurant. I'm not talking about the Bar Blowhard. Nobody is really listening to them. When you discover who this is, make that person your friend. And feed this person good info. Things you want everyone to know. "We've had a really tough spring, but we have done everything we can do to be ready when better weather comes". Ty Webb will get to say, "Look Herb, you don't like the greens, but our greens are just about to be great; just enjoy playing and practice your putting". You don't get to say that. He does.
6. Realize there will always be trolls. Some people are relentlessly unhappy. Always. And some people just get a personal woody making other people squirm. This is their sad pathetic life. I think these people are easy to spot. And while I don't believe you can or should blow them off to their face. I do think that you avoid wrestling in the mud with a pig. As the saying goes, you get muddy and the hog has fun. Some of these types are walking soundbite collectors. They are just waiting for you to say something stupid so that they can tell everyone what you just said. So casting your pearls before these swine is bad. Just don't. Be cordial and be on the move. Don't stick to their fly paper.
Some people are relentlessly unhappy. Always. And some people just get a personal woody making other people squirm. This is their sad pathetic life...
7. Yes, you have a turf degree. So what? Look, whatever level of education you have in our biz, don't let that make you believe that every conversation has to be a technical discussion on par with the best presentation you have ever heard at a turf conference. Seriously. Talking down to people, especially when they are wanting to be heard, is a disease that so many of us have. I have it. I think it's mostly in remission, but now and then it comes out.
If you start with the barrage of turfgrass stats, it's like a firehose hitting a little marigold plant. Destructive. And yet I see people do this all the time, "Well Mrs. Grimski, the daily readings of soil temperature that we take at 2 inches and 4 inches show a median soil temp of forty-one degrees, rising to fifty-four degrees on average at 2 pm. When we combine this with the moisture we are getting and our overall photo-period, our growth potential is..." Blah Blah Blah Blah is all she just heard. There is a time and a place for tech talk, but not when Mrs. Grimski just wants to know if things will be ok for the Ladies Invitational. I'm dead serious. Great turf people can sound like complete bullshit artists when they go to the big agronomy words. Don't.
8. What's is so? In the world of self-help and psychology a key way not to feel like you are messing up is to examine what is actually true and let that be the truth. Joe Badswing comes up to you and wants to tell you the greens suck. In the history of the world, no greens have ever sucked worse that the abomination that this guy calls his golf swing. His 20 handicap is a lie, just like his footwedge. So when he pops off about the course, you employ the techniques you have learned above. And you walk away. And you forget that Sir Gasbag has ever uttered a word. Same goes with Madam Margo Tomatosalad, who knows for a fact you only mow fairways on Ladies Day. Listen, then apologize for said operator getting in the way of her 90-yard drive and walk away and forget she spoke. No one in the Ladies Club hears her either. If you let the absolute abject BS land on you, and stick to you, you will be doomed to a life of self-loathing at the highest order.
Joe Badswing comes up to you and wants to tell you the greens suck. In the history of the world, no greens have ever sucked worse that the abomination that this guy calls his golf swing.
9. Talking points are the deal! Mr and Mrs Beemer stop you on a Saturday AM and have questions about "this project we have been hearing about". They have busy lives. They are mostly good people. They like their course. They don't want to play anywhere else. You have an opportunity here to make fans or foes out of them. First off, you know more about the project than anyone. So the rumors are just that. Second, you have 3-5 things that you want everyone to know. Quick talking points. Give them to them. And if they want to know more, see number 3 and 4 above. In every conversation with customers, especially when you know some gossip is in the air, there is no better way to control the situation than to have a few key things to say that are real, truthful and represent the word of the Horse's Mouth (yours). Don't let these folks get their info from the pro shop or the drink cart. It's gotta be you. That's part of your job.
10. Don't lie. Ever. I have been involved in some really bad stuff when turf professionals decide to take number 7 above a step too far. From a real situation: Superintendent X takes his first weekend off in two months and his rather inexperienced assistant misses three key irrigation cycles and the greens take a hit. Super X is a good person. He's pissed at that employee, but also knows that the buck stops with him. So he makes up a story about a rare disease that they didn't catch. You get where this is going, right? Yeah. Just don't. I'll finish the story by saying he got caught in that lie and it was a really tough set of meetings that allowed him to keep that job. Suffice to say, he took a huge credibility hit. If something you can control goes wrong, admit it. Be on top of it. And don't sugar coat or lie your way through it. Or invent a visit from the agronomy boogie man.
In every conversation with customers, especially when you know some gossip is in the air, there is no better way to control the situation than to have a few key things to say that are real, truthful and represent the word of the Horse's Mouth (yours).
Spring of 2019, Summer of 1984, Winter of 2002. On and on. We are agriculturalists. And we are faced with dealing with the weather and all kinds of other out of control variables. But with a little thinking and planning, you can be on top of the court of public opinion. But it takes work, thinking and planning. Like every other aspect of the job. You got this!