Why every architect should be patient
While traveling from New York to Colorado for a road trip across America, I booked a very economical flight with a transfer in Chicago. Upon landing in the United Airlines terminal, I remembered a suggestion from a coworker of mine to stop by Rick Bayless’ restaurant, Tortas Frontera, which just happened to be where my flight landed. With an hour to spare before boarding my transfer flight, I quickly joined the line and began my journey to order a Cubana sandwich. The cashier took my order and said it would take no longer than 15 minutes to prepare the sandwich.
So I waited, and waited, and waited…
After waiting 45 minutes in the second line for the workers to shout my ticket number, I finally walked over to the counter and asked about my order. It turns out that they were so busy rushing through the endless piles of paper that shifted from one worker to the next, that they actually misplaced 5-10 orders. If I never asked about my order, I would’ve had to leave my food and got on my flight with an empty stomach with the hopes that I’d fill up on a bag of oriental chips on the airplane.
How does this relate to architecture?
As an architect, we often encounter situations where we have to rush to complete projects or proposal packages and simultaneously work through several tasks. With proposals, many firms have developed a generic process of compiling information about the firm, resumes, related projects, references, etc. which is often generated by a marketing team or younger architects. Similarly, every architecture and design firm has a design standard where designers and architects produce design documents by repeating similar tasks.
When proposals and projects are nearing their deadlines, project managers and principals ask clients or consultants for their list of remaining design questions. Then, the production team goes into overdrive to complete each task by the deadline. Designers work a series of overtime hours to produce drawing after drawing and detail after detail. Marketing professionals replace images, edit project cutsheets, and chase down consultants and managing principals to sign off on forms.
During this entire process, both the designers and marketers are working under a high level of stress and anxiety while producing content after content and line after line to complete their packages for submission. Similar to the workers at Tortas Frontera who were under immense stress and rushing to complete each customers’ order, the architects, designers, and marketers have a higher chance of overlooking errors as they rush to complete each task. Every minor error that goes overlooked will eventually lead to a chain event where money, time, and energy will be wasted.
How can we reduce the amount of errors from occurring in our projects and proposals? And how can we ensure that both our colleagues and clients are more than satisfied with our work process and results?
Listen, react, and respond.
Take a deep breath, be calm, and listen
From my personal encounters with my family, friends, and co-workers, I’ve found that many issues arise from a lack of active listening. Oftentimes, we unconsciously setup a mental defense where we hear the words coming out of someone’s mouth, but we’re unable to accept their perspective on the subject. We either nod our heads as we wait for them to finish speaking, or we cut them off in the middle of their sentence, and attempt to get the last words into the discussion.
During stressful situations where things are moving at a fast pace, take a moment to slow down and take a few deep breaths. Look into the other person’s eyes, listen to what they’re saying, and take a moment to understand their perspective. By looking into a person’s eyes, reading their body language, hearing and comprehending what’s being said, we’re able to understand and accept their feelings and ideas before stating our own opinions.
Architects are usually put in situations where principals or project managers are out in the field while designers and marketers are in the office completing each submission package. Once a project nears its deadline, most project managers rush the designers to finish up details, pick up any final red lines, and correct keynotes and spelling errors. Due to the high level of stress, anxiety, and pressure, designers will often forget a detail note here and there and drawing errors will go unnoticed.
How can we use the information we’ve heard and observed to refocus our family, friends, or colleagues?
React and develop a plan of action
By using the information that we’ve gathered from listening, we could take a moment come up with solutions and ideas.
Oftentimes, we hear what others are saying and immediately respond without taking a moment to clarify our thoughts and emotions. These responses are an attempt at a solution, but generally lead to confusion. This is especially true in situations where one is leading a group of people who are working under intense levels of stress and pressure. Taking a moment to think through several ideas before responding allows us to choose the best course of action and come up with a response.
Clearly communicate your response
After developing a plan of action, we clearly convey our ideas and solutions to our co-workers by gathering them in a group and speaking to them. This should be a very fast team meeting where we start by stating the problem at hand, our thoughts on why this problem is evident, and then stating our solution.
Remember to ask for questions, feedback, and whether or not our plan of action is clear. Look around at each person and read their body and facial expressions to determine if anyone is still confused. Once everyone is on the same page, we’ll return to work and implement the plan of action to solve the issues. These team meetings should reduce the amount of stress and pressure on each individual by clarifying the most important tasks that must be completed and the simple tasks that require the least amount of time.
So what happened after getting my sandwich from Tortas Frontera?
Finally, they made my Cubana Torta and I quickly took it to my departure gate, which was 10 minutes away. I saw everyone standing in line, so I immediately joined them and contemplated eating my food as I stood in line, eating inside the airplane, or taking a seat in the waiting area and enjoying my meal while everyone else boarded. So I looked around at the crowd of people standing in line and noticed that some have been standing there for a while. I also noticed the first class passengers still waiting to board.
So I decided to take a seat in the waiting area and enjoy my Cubana Torta. The sandwich was fantastic and my flight was slightly delayed for a lightbulb change. In either case, I would’ve had about 20-30 minutes to eat my meal as the passengers boarded the airplane. If I continued standing in line and slowly walking into the airplane, my evening would’ve been full of stress and frustration. By taking a second to analyze the situation, developing a plan of action, and following through with my plan, I was able to enjoy my meal and get back on track.
If your team and you are under stress and pressure, take a deep breath, listen to everyone around you, internalize and react to what you’ve heard, and clearly communicate your response.