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Signaling and My Housekeeper
04.13.11

 

There's a concept in economics called "signaling". Wikipedia says it's where "one party credibly conveys some information about itself to another party."
 
Yesterday, I'm sitting at my computer practicing my singing exercises. To be fair, I was half practicing and half surfing the web. This isn't great as Gerald, my instructor, has pointed out before that when my mind wanders, I sometimes go off pitch so I really need to concentrate until it gets to be second nature. Point taken and I need to work on that :) Anyway -- I hear this voice. I immediately think that I've somehow visited some web page that inexplicably has audio on it (which I hate, it really is startling) -- then I realize it's not a webpage, it's my housekeeper who is in my house.
 
A little background, I have a housekeeper (obviously). She's good -- a couple of my neighbors have used her for years and both really like her. She comes in some random interval. I say random because I don't necessarily want her to come every week or two weeks because sometimes I travel or what not and I lightly clean the place myself -- so I sort of like to see when I feel like I'd like her to come by. Now, I realize this is not ideal for her so maybe I should move to a more fixed schedule. That being said -- this is what usually happens. She comes and cleans. Then some period of time elapses (let's say 2+ weeks) -- she calls to schedule the next cleaning. Now, I don't want to schedule so I hold off for some period of time until I'm ready and call her back. I've already told her that I prefer to call her to schedule -- so I've already sent a bad signal -- that even though I said I would prefer to schedule, if she calls me (sometimes repeatedly) -- I eventually cave and schedule sooner than I would like. Bad!
 
In this current situation, I actually want my house cleaned. I just got really busy and this fell by the wayside. I did, however, call her maybe a week ago and left a message trying to schedule something but I clearly said something to the extent of, "Sorry I missed you, call me back when you get a chance." Anyway -- she is now in my apartment -- I'm wondering whether she just wants to schedule (since she cleans my neighbors) -- but she's pretending that I might've told her to come yesterday and the message just got garbled. This is clearly not true. My first thought when I heard this was, "Oh, do I have to fire her?" I should point out that my housekeeper is a really nice lady. But my larger problem is this is totally unacceptable to me -- she shouldn't show up unannounced and she definitely shouldn't think this is an acceptable thing to do if I don't get back to her in a timely enough manner. Hence, signaling.
 
Now, I actually need my apartment cleaned so the practical part of me wanted to say, "Oh fine, go ahead." -- but there's the signaling problem and then I easily can have my housekeeper randomly coming by week to week which would be a disaster. She probably would take to verbal feedback but still. If I was really smart, I would've sent her off and said I would call her to schedule and call the next day. Instead, I scheduled a time for next week -- still not the best signal because the signal is, "If I up the ante in terms of bothering me, then I still get what I want [schedule for next time]."
 
I think I've also heard this concept described as "framing" -- in the sense of what type of frame one accepts for himself / herself. It's an interesting concept in terms of how one interacts with the world though -- here's what's conveyed and what people find acceptable.

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