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The wonderful world of opinions

Isn’t the world a better place with all the varieties of people with many varieties of thought?

In the past several years, I have immensely enjoyed meeting someone new and becoming mesmerized by their accounting of what type of business they have, their unique practices, their outlook on hot topics in the industry, and experiences that have shaped who they are, etc. That magnetic energy is what drew me to connecting with others on the John Bridge Forums, Facebook groups, the NTCA, and now – just about anyone I can make time for. I have this little window into the worlds of others. Although I may not get the whole picture, it’s more of a view than I would have had with the shade pulled down. 

Sometimes the clashing of opinions online can drown out any lessons that might be learned in an open-minded, respectful discussion. (Photo inspired by The Yorkshire Dad –https://theyorkshiredad.com/keyboard-warriors-are-we-raising-a-generation-of-bullies)

When it comes to our profession, you find many opinions clash with each other: foam vs. mud, spacers vs. grids, hybrids vs. systems, etc. On both sides there are those with beliefs that cannot be shaken, and in many respects, from their viewpoint and experiences they are completely and rationally right about why they lean one way or the other. I have heard numerous logical reasons why people do what they do! Because the opposing side has not had all the same ingredients of history, instructors, market, exposure, opportunity, product availability, and clients, surely, they cannot rule that one’s opinion on something isn’t justified. However, typically once someone has chosen a side, they usually stay the course and defend their way of life…it’s a battle to the death!!

Choosing to listen

To be productive and get the most from the experience, we must come to the table with our listening ears on, a healthy respect for the person sitting across from us, a gentle introduction to your side of the issue, and an appreciation for the weight of the discussion.

If the goal is to win someone over to your way of thinking, vehemently claiming a side loses you the battle from the get-go. No one wants to feel immediately challenged about the belief they have hammered out in their mind and – regarding this profession – with their hands. It establishes a line in the sand that cannot be crossed! It saddens me to see this played out over and over again on social media, at industry events, and anywhere passionate people begin to engage. We all want to feel good about what we do and how we do it, but instead of pounding our chests or being closed off to differing opinions, what if we could just be good listeners or good demonstrators?

I struggle with this. My grandfather and mentor had a sign that hung in our company’s meager basement/shop: “MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY” and next to it was another sign “EITHER LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!” I wouldn’t trade that learning environment for anything; it has shaped me to be who I am, but man, that’s a hard way to learn. And it’s equally hard not to teach the way you were taught! 

He wasn’t alone. I have seen that “pioneering-take-charge-get-it-done-I know what I am doing-don’t-get-in-my-way-DON’T-ARGUE-WITH-ME-OR-TELL-ME-ANY-DIFFERENT” attitude everywhere in construction but most often in the ceramic tile trade (and in the mirror). Where did it come from? At what point did we arrive at that place where we were so firm in our beliefs that we could not listen or consider an alternative?

These signs hung in Denny’s grandfather’s shop. They helped shape who Denny is today, but he admitted it was a hard way to learn.

Learning from each other

Repeatedly I get humbled. I find identifying the humbling experience makes the next time you must eat crow a little easier. If you, Reader, have shown me something I didn’t know, THANK YOU! If you, Reader, try to show me something in the future and I dismiss it, I apologize in advance! It’s our human tendency to resist change I suppose, but when we allow ourselves to be just a little pliable, we may begin to take a shape for the better. And even if we don’t adopt a new viewpoint, we may have at least listened and considered that alternative, which may solidify knowing the alternative isn’t for us. Although most arguments end in stalemates, I have witnessed people who have invested heart into the discussion at hand and made positive decisions moving forward because of it. That’s what our interactions should be like, that’s where we glean from others’ experiences. 

Mind the unarguable 

One thing I have found, being at CTEF, is that some things do exist in this world that are not quite arguable. That seems to be the beauty of industry-recognized methods and standards. In most instances, there is a clear black-and-white. And if there is gray, it is also clearly legible and identifiable. 

At the Technical Committee meeting in January of this year, Denny prepares to listen to Shon Parker’s comments.

I am not so bold to say that these standards and methods are perfect – not at all! The process isn’t perfect; the result of the process isn’t always perfect; nor are the people in the process perfect – but the people have the ultimate goal to get methods and standards developed and in writing. They have made a commitment to discuss and research and consider and debate and – in the end – agree to something. It may be an agreement to disagree, but it is played out and recorded, and the entire industry can learn something from it. The recorded part is what’s so important: it sets the stage for decisions to be made to determine if it is black, white, gray, right, wrong, or indifferent. During the legal process, the recorded final product of the methods and standards development process isn’t arguable.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

As we teach, it is difficult to curtail our desires to show you “the way I have done it” or “the way I was taught.” Separating experience and falling back on a prescribed methodology isn’t necessarily natural, nor is examining our own methodology to see if it falls in line with an industry-recognized method or standard. However, in CTEF classes, we strive to base our education on concrete industry-recognized information. When we do it well, it is refreshing to see an installer stop to digest a new-to-them idea, see the reasoning behind it, and the light bulb go off. That can’t happen with a line in the sand – or spears in hand. To be productive and get the most from the experience, we must come to the table with our listening ears on, a healthy respect for the person sitting across from us, a gentle introduction to your side of the issue, and an appreciation for the weight of the discussion. With both sides of an issue doing that, something positive has a much better chance of occurring. 

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully live out what I have expressed here in future interactions with others, but I hope this musing gives thought for the next time we/I want to give our/my two cents. You may have another thought on the issue and if you do, drop me a line at brad.denny@tilecareercom. This is an opinion column and I welcome your thought.  

Brad Denny
Executive Director at Ceramic Tile Education Foundation

Brad Denny CTI #1190 has been intensely active in the tile industry for many years. He has served as Region 6 Director for the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), received the NTCA Dedication to Membership award – a recognition specially created just to honor his passion for methods, standards, and the internet – and chaired the NTCA’s Social Media Subcommittee as well as moderated the Tile Geeks Facebook group.

Brad also served as the Co-Chairman of the NTCA Training and Education Committee with Sam Bruce of Visalia Tile for 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, Brad received the prestigious NTCA Tile Person of the Year Award. This award is given to someone who has positively impacted NTCA through participation in the Association's programs.

Before becoming Executive Director for CTEF, Brad was vice president and COO of  Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co, Inc.,  a family-owned tile contractor business located outside of Nashville, Tenn., and NTCA Five-Star Contractor Member of the NTCA.

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