Some thoughts on Competence.

Most mornings, I like to stop before I walk out the door, push back in the recliner, brief slowly and deeply, and sort out the day to come. For me it is a form of meditation. As a younger man, if I tried this I would fall asleep for 40 minutes and never catch up. Now I seem to have an alarm in my head.

My eyes pop open at exactly the moment I programmed, so I pop up and walk out the door.

This morning the word “competence” popped into my head. I deal with dozens of people each week. They are potential clients, my staff, my family, my Facebook friends who provide joy to me, and my adversaries.

“Competence” is not to be confused with “competency”. That legal term refers to a person’s legal status. A person may be deemed incompetent because they have not reached adulthood and therefore cannot sign a legal contract, or because they are serving in the active duty military and are presumed to be unable in many situations to protect their own legal rights, they may be incarcerated and unable to appear in court or protect their legal rights, or they may not be oriented to time and place.

I talk about competency in my article It is also possible for a person to be competent but so frail or aged is to be susceptible to pressures of others.

But the status of being a competent person is something I have thought about a great deal. I deal with certain people were quite able and competent but willing to lie, cheat or even steal to achieve their goals. Another group, just as maddening, are basically good people who cannot prioritize, who can’t say no, to take on too much, or who fall back into this category because of health or other distractions.

I arrived in this world with a number of limitations. Average looks, slightly below average height. Limited athletic ability. Thin skin. Difficulty focusing. But, today a nice lady called me because my former client referred me and described me as a friendly Wolverine! I like that.

I was a 4-H club member for seven or eight years. One strict rule of the 4-H clubs of West Virginia was that we had to take on at least one “project” every year. I believe I sometimes took on more than one. That’s where I got my grounding in the basics of photography, woodworking, forestry, and cooking. Eric Wallace and I once earned a red ribbon (not blue) demonstrating how to make “drop biscuits”. But we beat the two girls we competed against. The 4-H club could be quite “cruel” because they would give you a white ribbon if you performed poorly. My one white ribbon burns inside me to this day.

Since I lived in a world of winners and losers, I learned to detest losing. I’m not a good loser. If you beat me in court, I almost never will come over and shake your hand. I might not even speak to you for a while. Eventually I will come around unless you cheated to beat me.

Since my collection of talents are different from yours and, frankly, for most people, it has been a lot of work over a number of years to put together a system to allow me to achieve my goals. Since I do not have a great rote memory, I have put together tools to gather the information I need, summarize it, and have it readily at hand.

Since my personal form of dyslexia makes it almost impossible for me to find the paper I need when I need it, they’re all spread out in front of me.

Since I hate detail, I spent three hours with my client putting together a very particularized “equitable distribution spreadsheet” of every asset and debt. It is not fun, but I do it religiously. I bring that spreadsheet in my computer to every mediation, adjusting values and balances as necessary so that we always know how close my client is to a 50% – 50% division.

We have a rule in our office that nothing goes out of this office without a hook in it. That means we have “a suspense system” taught to me by my Facebook friend Cathy Chipari Page, 45 years ago, setting a date, one, two, or four weeks into the future in order to remind us that document went out and to make sure we take the next appropriate step. That one firm rule keeps our matters moving along.

When we close the file, my staff has to go over a long checklist. Every order dividing a retirement fund, every deed, and every document, must be completed before we can close that file. And the client has to have the option to pick up their file or a digital copy.

I continue in my quest to find the perfect “outliner tool”, checklist, task lists, document assembly app., and “voice to text” app. The best are the ones you can’t imagine you never had.

Do I want you to give me a “pat on the back”? Sure, but that’s not the point of this article. You do not have to like me. You don’t have to love me. But I would be gravely disappointed if you did not give me credit for achieving most of the tasks that are set before me. As GEICO says, “It’s what I do.”

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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