“Be impeccable with your word”

Following a rather short campaign, Canada just recently switched Prime Minister and it made the world look twice. From outside of our borders, Justin Trudeau certainly seems young and his election is still stirring multiple reactions. From within the country, thanks to social media, these elections are now labeled as historic given the population’s turnout to the polling stations. I was there, hired as a central poll supervisor: look at it as a project manager until the day of the elections, and an event operations manager on October 19th.

To be considered to accept such a role, basic education and some experience dealing with a variety of customers are a combined prerequisite to being a Canadian citizen. Long hours of training were to comfort our idea of being ready to serve the electors the day of the elections. Guidebooks, videos, facilitators and tests were all part of the process to get us, temporary employees, up to speed with the revised Canadian Elections Act. In my riding, there were 224 poll stations: some of them were grouped in one same location (up to a maximum of 10). Think about 3 staff per each, plus any backup whenever possible: that is a lot of people to hire and train in a restricted time.

Reaching out to many levels of understanding and mastering English is a tough sell (I can attest this from my time working in Azerbaijan), and that is likely where a few details fell through the cracks of that training. Sharing information to the masses within time constraints is running the risk of missing some clarity in the messages delivered and receiving some polite heads nodding back, embarrassed to ask for clarification. I realised that glitch on elections day when some of my team had interpreted one of their responsibilities differently from what the training facilitator meant: “tear the piece of paper”. For ESL people like me, “tearing a piece of paper” can lead to various actions, ending up in, in some extreme cases, big confettis.

With no test event, or a dry run to make sure everybody was on the same page before welcoming the citizens to vote, my team and I made it work, like other polling stations. I spent a lot of time checking with the main office to confirm the choices we were to make were the correct ones. Diffusing any tension (yes, there was some), addressing any question (there were many), treating everyone fairly, helping whenever possible and relying on everyone of my staff’s willingness to make these elections a smooth experience for the electors: this reminded me of the four agreements: 1. Be impeccable with your word, 2. Don’t take anything personally, 3. Don’t make assumptions, 4. Always do your best. Considering no complaint was filed at “our” polling station, we managed to wrap the day up without a tear…