Two Ships Passing in the Night

“Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”
Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


One of the many quotes that has stuck with me through the years, “two ships passing in the night” is a reminder of how not to live. We all want to affect each other in positive ways but it can be difficult to know when an opportunity has gone missed, overlooked, or misinterpreted.

If only we knew how to signal more effectively.

If only we knew how to receive signals more effectively.

Recently, I sat down with a national homebuilder’s senior management team to review their Eliant RateTrades evaluations – scores and comments about their subcontractors. A finish carpenter in their Southern California market was scored particularly low by the construction superintendents on one question:

“This trade left the job site clean and free of trash each day.”

I made an example of this situation. Job site cleanliness is 100% controllable with adequate supervision and training. This issue goes beyond the superintendents and could leave a bad impression with home buyers visiting their home sites during construction. If the builder can’t control the trades’ cleanliness, how can they control their quality?

Lo and behold, I later found myself in a meeting with the same finish carpenter. When I brought up the job site cleanliness aspect of their evaluations, their response left me dumbfounded. “We show up to the job site on schedule, but the job is delayed and we didn’t know. We left our materials on site but off to the side to save the extra trip when the job is ready.”

Two ships passing in the night.

Thankfully, RateTrades exposed this miscommunication and created an opportunity for improvement. This subcontractor’s cleanliness evaluations have improved, while the builder’s job sites are more organized.

It pays to listen to your team members’ feedback about the trades, and when something doesn’t seem right, signal. Helm’s alee!


Eric Mitchell, Project Manager