Is Your Assistant a Mindreader?

Woman under a hairdryer with sunglasses on, a frown, a single strand of pearls, and a splotch of green hair

Mindreaders are in short supply

If your assistant IS a mindreader, they should get a pay raise! Take it from a ‘Mindreader’ who has been an assistant before—your assistant is probably NOT a mindreader.

Working with people with disabilities has made me very aware of how I can improve what I communicate to my assistants, and particularly, HOW I communicate it.

What your assistant doesn’t know is quite a bit. 

When you’ve been doing what you do for a while, and your assistant is new, it turns out there is even more they don’t know!

There are many things that they probably DO know.

It’s up to us to create an environment where they are comfortable asking questions. The fact of the matter is that nobody is going to say anything if they don’t feel valued and safe. Debriefing after an event is a great way to get to this point with your team.

Your assistants can help you get better. Much better.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant, creative, and innovative designers as an assistant.

This is a great way to learn, stretch, get ideas of how you can improve your client experience, or add elements to bedazzle your client. Below are some of the things I’ve noticed—what works, what could be improved, and how we can streamline the process.

We have had some of the most AMAZING assistants, too! They’ve helped us understand how to make things work better and flow more smoothly on their end (and on ours).

If we don’t say or show what what we want an assistant to do, they might not understand our tasks, at least not right away.

What is the best way to give assistants an overview of the completed project, of what we’re trying to achieve, when each part should be completed, and how we’ll know when that has happened? The answer: SMART Goals – Specific  – Measurable – Achievable – Relevant – Time-bound.

Everyone has a preferred learning style.

Some people respond well to verbal instruction, some are visual learners, and some like a set of objectives and benchmarks, or step-by-step instruction in real time. Others like to be shown how to do something, and still others like to have guided, hands-on training. There are also combinations that are useful, depending on the task and the assistant.

For me personally, I seem to understand and be able to work in many different ways, except that I can’t always see or hear instructions in the chaos and noise of live events.

Show and tell.

One way to work around this is by doing a show and tell. I can show my assistants what things are, where they live, how things look at the beginning. By showing the structure of what we’re doing, the stages of beginning, middle, and end are very helpful.

That’s why someone who has worked with you before is infinitely more valuable than a first-time assistant. They have an idea of what you want and how you want it, how you communicate, and your priorities.

When I’m asked or told to do something, it can be an exercise in frustration if I can’t hear or see the person speaking, or don’t know what the components are called.

I’m always amazed at all the different ‘things’ I don’t know the names of! 

Garbage in, garbage out. Create a system to your madness.

It’s the same with the breakdown. Knowing the order the items need to be stored or retrieved helps expedite the work. Vases need to be repacked so they can be safely retrieved for the next event and are easy to find. Making an inventory sheet for items to quickly note if they are broken/damaged/need cleaning/or are missing will save you and your assistants a great deal of time.

Loading vehicles—which items go where, and in what order? Assume your assistant hasn’t seen all of the items yet and can’t know what else is to come until it has been taken down.

Save time and money.

Do you have a van/truck layout? Are there items that need to be stored differently, or separately? Do you have labels and markers available? Use your inventory check-off list with names of items, count, and condition. Add photos of the items, have the document loaded on a tablet and send a copy to your client immediately after breakdown. If the client is still on site, you can give them the sheet or tablet to sign immediately after you show missing or damaged goods.

Let’s set those new assistants up for success and at the same time, lighten our load-ins and load-outs!

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