What Supers Wish Residents Knew
Those of us who are resident managers and multi-family building superintendents work daily with a sense of the precariousness of our situations, doing our jobs day to day at the pleasure (or displeasure) of the boards and management companies who hire us.
As such, we are often infinitely more circumspect in what we say to our residents than to each other on staff, and internalize much of our thought processes on resident/maintenance worker relational problems.
This is, for the most part, because most of us have been hired less for our communication skills, more for our handyman skills.
The super who can verbalize well, and put on paper what he or she is really feeling without also feeling intimidated, and without alienating the building’s population, is in the minority.
All of us who have worked in property maintenance for any length of time have a short list – either abstractly and only in our heads, or more concretely on paper or in our PDAs – a catalog of items that we wish those people for whom we work truly understood about us and our chosen vocation.
We all wish we could express it briefly, succinctly and with a sense of humor about it all, and that those around us could read our list and internalize it to the point where everything we say to them is heard, and everything we do for them is seen, as highlighted by “the list”.
Not a list of commandments, but of “rules”. Not written in stone, but in caring and with humor, and with some sensitivity to ourselves as well as the humans we work for in particular, and the human condition in general.
What follows then is one very unoriginal list, gleaned from many years experience and from long associations with several of the best of Manhattan’s long time supers and resident managers:
1. a. If you ask a question you don’t want an answer to, expect an answer you don’t want to hear. b. If you demand an honest answer, don’t be surprised when you get it. It’s only logical, folks.
2. If you think you’re calling after hours, you probably are. Don’t call and ask “Am I calling too late?” It’s a no-win situation for a super to answer that question honestly.
3. If you run out of hot water while taking a shower, it’s not ALWAYS the super’s fault, indeed, it is hardly EVER the super’s fault. Learn to blame the plumbing and heating gods without a second thought and without smirking, just like we do.
4. You can either ask us to do something OR tell us how you want it done, not both. Remember: most supers already know infinitely more about how-to stuff than you ever will.
5. Get thee to the local hardware store, buy a toilet plunger, and learn how to work it. And get to know your way around a circuit breaker box. If you don’t know these things and really do want to know, ask us – we’ll teach you. Otherwise wait until 9am tomorrow morning – we don’t like being interrupted at dinner (or bedtime) for these non-emergency items.
6. If something is not a life-altering emergency, we consider crying to be cruelty. Enough said?
7. Ask for what you want. Understated hints don’t work. Strong hints don’t work. Really obvious hints don’t work. We’re grownups – just say it – we can take it.
8. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. It’s what we do.
9. Bob Vila didn’t need directions from his audience; neither do we. If you want to watch us work, shut up and watch (emphasis on SHUT UP).
10. If you think you MIGHT be too cheap when doling out the holiday tips, you definitely are – by at least 50%.
11. If you think your super’s salary is too high, spend a week following him around and watch him work. You’ll be shocked at his awesome responsibility, and will quickly understand that whatever he’s making, it isn’t nearly enough.
12. “Very handy” does not equal “miracle-worker”. Supers are by definition very handy, but most of the time we are NOT miracle workers, in any true sense of those words.
13. If in doubt, if all else fails or you’ve run out of options and you’re tempted to blame the super again, see rule number 3.