Does the following statement sound familiar: “I have specifically told him not to do that, but yet he still does it. It drives me crazy.”
Or this one: “I know we’ve talked about that. And she said she understood. Yet just this morning, I witnessed her doing the same thing without making the changes we had discussed and agreed upon.”
I think we’ve all been there. Frustrated that something we felt had been communicated wasn’t translating in to action.
I was on the other end of this conversation last week when meeting with Grace’s chiropractor. As we were wrapping up, Donna diplomatically offered a suggestion for me about working with Grace. She had noticed earlier, when we were sitting and talking, that Grace had been pacing around. Donna’s suggestion is that when Grace is showing early signs of anxiety that I ask her to “have a job” – something as simple as sitting down. It allows Grace to focus on following a command versus wondering what she should be doing in an unfamiliar and potentially stressful situation.
I was very appreciative to receive the advice. What struck me, and what I told Donna, is that this was not a new piece of advice to me. It’s a fairly basic concept and I’ve read and heard trainers offer the tip before. In fact, I know it has passed my ears multiple times.
So why was it that I hadn’t known the best course of action to take in that moment? Clearly, I am very motivated to create the best opportunities for Grace’s success. But I had fallen short on making the best choice in this situation.
There are two possible, and likely, reasons why I believe this happened. (More of that in one second.) But the point I want to make loud and clear for managers and co-workers, is that even the most motivated and well-intentioned employees are going to make mistakes – and ones that might seem like no-brainers, perhaps even to the person creating the offense. That’s why conversation and feedback are so important to change the outcome, yet that critical step is often avoided.
Back to why I think this happened. First, it’s my personality. My natural tendency is not to be overly assertive. I’m typically laid-back and casual in my approach to many things, and if Grace wanted to walk around and sniff the grass while we talked, I didn’t see a problem with that. I knew she was on a leash and couldn’t get into danger, as I saw it, such as taking off suddenly to chase a chipmunk that might appear. I felt I had enough control that was safe and appropriate for Grace. But Donna sensed a subtle nuance that I missed. She had picked up on cues from Grace, sensing a tinge of anxiety and knew what would have eased that for her. And there’s the second reason: I was unaware. Not because I didn’t want to be but because I was focused on something else. I was intently listening and trying to absorb what Donna had to say, as opposed to being focused on Grace. I felt I was watching her, but the reality was, I didn’t have the same level of awareness as Donna had.
And those exact two things happen in the workplace all the time. First, an individual’s personality will be a dominant dictator of the response they have to a certain situation. It may or may not be the same as the one you might have; if it’s a lot different, you’ll have a harder time understanding why the “mistake” happened. And second, people have different levels of awareness about the same situation. Without discussing those differences, the other person will never be able to view it like you have.
I was so grateful that Donna took the initiative and pointed this out to me. She could have easily let it slide; it certainly took more time and effort on her part to broach the topic versus getting in her car and driving off. Giving me that feedback helped me learn through her expertise and observations. Sure, I might make the mistake again, but the chances are significantly better for me to improve, now armed with more information. I feel certain I would make the same mistake again if she hadn’t pointed it out to me.
The application of the training advice is so helpful. Being told you should do a particular thing sounds easy in theory, but knowing when and where and how through experience is what helps us be successful in implementing it.
Offering constructive feedback is not easy. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words without sounding like a ‘know-it-all.” Other times, a defensive or angry reaction might be anticipated or received, which would discourage you. There is no doubt I felt a little foolish when Donna shared her advice with me. But if I’m not willing to accept and acknowledge those mistakes, I won’t be able to get past them. After all, Donna and I were both there to help Grace.
Just like at our workplaces, all parties are there for the same desired outcomes, such as a satisfied client or making a change to create a more efficient work process. Ongoing conversation that includes constructive feedback, and your willingness to eliminate your ego, is the best place to start.