Lessons learned

ARRRGGH! overlaid on email logo
Image modified from pixabay.com / CCO Public Domain

A brutal email from a co-worker received Friday has been eating away at me all weekend. I’m trying to brush it off. After all, I don’t believe it will have any long lasting repercussions, at least not for me. For her, it will reflect badly for some time.

She was angry, and the emotion came through loud and clear. Actually, the words screamed rage, and her statements came across as marching orders. This commandeering was inappropriate on several levels, First of all, I don’t report to her, and she does not outrank me. However, even if that was the case, it would not justify the harsh tone. In the corporate workplace, professionalism and civility should take priority in all communications. Unless, we’re on a coffee break and chatting about personal matters, the office is out of bounds for emotionally charged talk. Additionally, her boss had already emailed me about the matter and in a more civil tone, so the co-worker’s email was superfluous and came off as a cowardly attempt to distance herself from any shared blame.

Having said that, she had a point. I had handled a situation badly. With a demanding tone of voice that is counter to our company values, she previously asked me to perform a task out of scope for my job. I consulted others for direction who agreed it was in fact her role to execute this but recommended I compromise. As a result, rather than taking a clear position to either decline the request or accept the lead to get the job done, I engaged other stakeholders to get the ball rolling without sharing this approach with my co-worker. This backfired, and I knew there would be pushback. Her manager’s email to me, which included an apology for not setting clear expectations, was acceptable. The co-worker’s email, on the other hand, was over the line.

So, how do I deal with stuff like this and stop obsessing over it? I look for lessons learned from the experience to glean value from it. In the past, I tried to erase such experiences from memory but have since decided that is a futile exercise and a waste of potential opportunity. I prefer to discover a takeaway, now that I have already invested so much time stewing over it. Here’s what I plan to do and not do next time:

  1. Use her email as an example of what not to do should I find myself in her shoes. It is unprofessional, unbecoming, nonproductive and inevitably perceived badly by colleagues and those up the chain who have read it via copy or forwarding.
  2. I should trust my gut instinct about the potential fallout of my own actions and take proactive steps to avoid it.
  3. In the future, I would make it a point to respond decisively, albeit diplomatically, to inappropriate delegation of tasks.

I am also examining my work style. There was a time when I shouldered problem resolution to the point that I didn’t even ask others for advice or support. My approach was: my work, my problem. When I became aware of how frequently others consulted me or asked for help, I decided I had been foolish in feeling that I was always on my own. But I went to the other extreme by following advice I knew, though well-intended, was likely to end badly. From now on, I will look for the middle ground. Using others as a sounding board is fine but in the end, it may be better to use your best judgment based on experience and emotional intelligence to anticipate what will produce the most favorable outcome.

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