The Challenge of Getting People to Follow Instructions
For years, I’ve played racquetball with a group of about a dozen men ranging in age from 62 to 83. Until COVID hit, we played doubles games every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8am to 10am. We would rotate teams after every game so that everyone had a chance to play. That is, until COVID shut the club down.
Recently, our club has partially opened back up but with strict health safety restrictions, including only allowing two people on the court at a time. (There’s only one court.) So, I was asked to send out an email survey asking everyone which time slots each person most preferred to play.
Okay, how hard can it be to get the group’s input on this simple question? Turns out, way, way harder than I thought. Here’s how the group attempted to answer my 1-question survey.
GROUP EMAIL FROM TIM: Hey, everybody. The club is re-opening for limited racquetball play. So, I was asked to send around this survey to ask everyone when they’d most like to play. Because of the limit of only two players on the court at a time, we want to avoid having all of us show up at the same time, understand?
It’s a really simple survey. Just look at the six time slots available. Then email me back your preferred time slots to play, from 1st choice to 6th. Easy Peasy. To make it even easier for you, I provided this simple pre-filled example grid, to show you how to respond.
RAY’S REPLY: Yes to all.
TIM: Um, Ray, Not sure what to do with your response of “Yes to all.” Can you just fill out the survey with 1 for your top choice and 6 for your least preferred time slot?
TIM: Um, Ned, it appears you just copied and pasted my example and sent it back to me. Can you replace my example numbers with your own preferred times? Thanks, buddy.
GEORGE’S REPLY: Monday: 1, Wednesday: 1, Friday: 1
TIM: Hey, George. Thanks for replying so quickly. But you can’t make all your choices 1’s. Please stack rank the six time slots from 1 to 6. If this is still not clear, just call me.
CORY’S REPLY: Tuesdays work best for me. I could also do Saturdays.
TIM: Sorry I was not clearer in my email, Cory. Tuesdays and Saturdays weren’t options. Have we EVER played on Tuesdays or Saturdays? If you slow down and re-read my instructions, you’ll see there are six time slots to choose from, two on Monday, two on Wednesday and two on Friday. Okay, buddy?
NED’S SECOND REPLY: Oh, sorry about my confusion earlier. Here you go!
TIM: Ned, you’re still sending me back my example survey, just like you did before. Please give me YOUR preferred times, okay? You don’t need to use the grid if that’s too complicated.
TIM: Johnny, have you taken your meds yet this morning? Not sure what to make of your responses. And what exactly do you mean with “okay?” Can you help me out, dude? Let me try this one more time: I’m looking for one number, 1 to 6, in each box. Got it?
FRANK’S REPLY: Here you go, Tim. Thanks for putting this all together.
TIM: Um, very helpful feedback, Frank. Great job at not falling into the trap of actually following any of my instructions.
RICK’S REPLY: I would like to play. Thanks for asking.
TIM: Rick, buddy, throw me a bone. Just READ THE FREAKIN’ INSTRUCTIONS!! Fill out all the boxes. Put a number 1 – 6, in each box. This is not rocket science.
RICK’S SECOND REPLY: Sorry about that. I wasn’t wearing my glasses before. Here you go.
TIM: Much better, Rick. Mission accomplished, buddy. I think it might be time for your nap.
NED’S THIRD REPLY: How about now? Better?
TIM: Ned, whatever you’re smoking, can I have some of it? Your latest response establishes a fairly lucid awareness of several days of the week. But I have to ding you 5 points for your final answer. Technically, “banana” is not a day of the week. I’ll send you a copy of our home game just for playing. Now, go have a donut. You’ve earned it.
NORMAN’S REPLY: Tim, when you say, rank our preferences from 1 to 6, with 1 being our top pick and 6 being our least preferred pick, do I win anything if I guess all the correct answers?
TIM: Yes, Norman. Yes, you do. You’ll win The Congressional Medal of Honor. Thanks for asking.
BERT’S REPLY: Do I need to wear shorts?
TIM: Bert, what an excellent, totally on-point question. You can show up however you like, in boxer shorts, a tuxedo, or your favorite clown costume. I really don’t care. Sorry for taking you away from watching Judge Judy.
GROUP EMAIL FROM TIM TO ALL: You guys are all killing me. Just read the F*CKING INSTRUCTIONS. As I stated in plain English – which apparently is a second language for many of you – I just want you to list your time preferences, ranked from 1 to 6. How is this so hard to comprehend? You know what? Never mind. Forget it.
The more I think about it, I need to apologize. I failed to grasp the enormous complexity of my survey question. It was not fair of me to ask everybody to give me answers using the first six numbers of our counting system. In hindsight, I realize now that I should have included a five-page set of instructions, with diagrams, a refresher on how numbers work explaining how 1 is a smaller number than 6, along with a detailed FAQ anticipating likely questions such as “what is a number?”
Forget about giving me 1 to 6 answers. Instead, feel free to reply any way you’d like. Perhaps just send your opinion on which is better, pie or cake. Or maybe share a quote from your favorite Tom Hanks movie. Or just enclose a photo of your favorite pet from your childhood. Any of these will be every bit as helpful as the feedback I’ve received thus far. Thanks.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021.