Tell Someone When They Screw Up, Especially When They Are In A Position Of Authority
A few months back, I made a junior, female colleague cry.
I really didn’t mean to. She asked for my help and I was gruff with her when I rendered that help.
I was gruff because I was stressed. I was working on a fairly complex problem, for a very difficult client, and the website needed to be delivered on budget and on time. And my colleague’s request for help interrupted not only my time but my train of thought (explaining, not defending my actions).
I have been training people in how to use a computer for longer than most of my colleagues have been alive, so I understand that helping them learn is one of the biggest parts of my job. When I was asked by my boss to write out my job description recently (it ran to four pages of 11pt A4, in a bulletted list of all the tasks I carry out — although using layman’s terms extended it somewhat), “Training my fellow staff” was third from the top (behind keeping the computers in the office and that act as our web servers running).
When it comes down to brass tacks, the real reason I was stressed at having to meet a deadline is that my boss had insisted that 50% of each of my working days was assigned to carrying out scut work, presumably because he feels keeping 600+ websites and the servers that run them, all running smoothly is non-profitable use of my time.
But (and yes, that’s what I felt like) I had no right to take my frustration at my boss out on a young woman who is younger than my eldest daughter. I didn’t realise I had done it, but in many ways that makes it worse. After another colleague consoled her and she returned to the office, I apologised to her in front of everyone. It was a truly heartfelt apology, I was horrified that my anger, and I am eloquently expressive with my anger, was so poorly aimed that she felt it was targeted at her. She was asking me about something she had no way of knowing the correct answer to, and I had no right to make her feel that she shouldn’t have asked.
I felt like shit that day. And since then, I have taken extra care to support all my colleagues. If they interrupt me when I am doing something important, I have learned to take a deep breath, ask them if it vitally urgent, and if it’s not then to make a note of it and I will come back to it when I have a moment (interruptions when you are trying to juggle the entire phase space of a user-interaction flow in your head at once aren’t welcome, see below). This particular colleague is an excellent web designer. She has a grasp of the fine visual points of design that I have tried and repeatedly failed to attain. She knows how to sell a product or service. And she does a great job liaising with clients. I now make sure that she knows how much I value her as a colleague, as an important member of the team, and that I don’t object to her entirely legitimate requests for assistance on technical matters.
On the upside: I have learned to be a better co-worker. On the downside, I have to live with the memory that I made that poor woman burst into tears.