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Could you be a bit more specific?

Could you please be a bit more specific? The world doesn’t exist in black and white. There is a whole spectrum of gray in between, so details are important. It is difficult to take someone seriously when they use broad-sweeping terms without data to support a claim, or without specific examples of what they are talking about.

“There is a TOTAL lack of parking in downtown Alpena.”

“Alpena NEEDS an Aldi store.”

“There is ZERO parking for people to use the splash pad.”

“ALL of the people who make decisions for the community ONLY care about money.”

“There is NOTHING for young families to do in this town.”

“NO ONE here can afford high-end housing.”

These are all real, and very negative, statements I have read or received directly. I know that the people who said these things probably don’t mean what they said in a literal sense. I doubt the person who says there is zero parking downtown truly believes there isn’t a single place to park. I don’t think the person who believes we need an Aldi is starving because she can’t find food to purchase anywhere else. Complaints like those don’t do much good for those who make decisions about developments, events, and projects within the community.

When we speak in such definitive terms, we are usually attempting to demonstrate a point. And that’s fine. But, without specifics, or without data to back up the claim, or even a lesser claim that isn’t so definitive, it is difficult to take the complaint seriously. It is helpful when you share examples, listen to the other side, and provide qualitative and quantitative support for your position.

Let’s consider parking. It is a hot topic, for sure. A topic we have often referred to as a four-letter word, because it causes such angst with people. To say there is zero parking for the splash pad, or that there is a total lack of parking downtown, is simply not true. I challenged someone one day about the splash pad comment. I physically went and counted the number of spaces in the lot by the beach that she mentioned. There were almost twice as many spaces as she had claimed there to be, after admitting there were more than zero spaces. It was easy to come by the real numbers. Regarding parking downtown, in my more than 12 years here, I can only think of one time I couldn’t find a spot to park, and the only reason is because I was looking to park within a few spaces of where I was going because I was in a hurry. Other than that, there seems to be parking available if I am willing to walk a short distance. When I say short, it is often less than a block.

If someone wants to complain to me about parking, or anything else, a statement like “there is a TOTAL lack of parking” quickly goes in one ear and out the other. If the person complaining cannot give specific information or data, then, to me, there really isn’t a complaint to be heard. I want to know where you are looking for parking, what your purpose is in where you are going, if you are physically capable of walking a block or more, how often you are unable to find parking, and more.

There are specific details necessary to fully understand a situation. As a side note, I am not the right person to complain to about parking, anyway. The Chamber has very little to do with parking, other than weighing in on a conversation when appropriate. It is more relevant to our economic development efforts, so that’s where I usually send the person.

I will ask questions to find out more details. It helps me better understand what is really happening. Sometimes, that leads to the accusation that we don’t care because we don’t simply take the statement at face value, but the opposite is true. We ask questions and seek specific information because we do care.

Also, because we know the world doesn’t exist in black and white and we seek to understand the giant realm of possibilities that exist between those opposing ends of the spectrum.

Please, when you have a suggestion or a complaint, pair it with more specific information. It is much more valuable than a definitive, blanket statement. And, when you do make a definitive statement, understand that it is rarely going to be true, because few things truly are “always” or “never”.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs biweekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.