I’m not good at following through. Wow! When I write and read something like that and it pertains to me, it sounds awful! But I’m going to face it, I’m not good at following through. At least when it came to this blog. Please bear with the beginning of this post, it is going somewhere and it does tie into Project Management/Leadership. This blog initially started out in an MBA class as a way to learn to navigate the waters of social media as it pertains to a personal and professional brand. The professor was Dr. Bret Simmons and I learned an immense amount from him on the platforms from Twitter to Facebook, from Linked in to Google+. As I’ve said in precious posts, I literally had no presence at all in January 2015 and by May 1st of the same year, I was drinking the Kool-Aid by the bucket load. At the conclusion of the semester we had to write a brief essay on what learned and to quote myself: “The biggest thing I learned is it’s not easy to produce, research, find, and disseminate quality content on a regular basis, but it is worth it.” I will reiterate: no, it’s not easy. In that same essay we had to comment on what we were going to do with what we learned and again to quote myself: “I am going to create and distribute content that has value and gives perspective.” And what did I do after all that? I did not follow through and I didn’t in a couple areas.
First, as written above, I was determined to continue to create quality content but this is my first post in over three months. So, I let myself down there. Second, and this to me is worse because I let someone else down. This post is voluntary for sure, but it’s a continuation of the class mentioned above for the same professor. Its goal is to continue what was gleaned in the spring, that’s it, just continue the lessons learned and apply them. But I jacked it up! Simple task and I still misinterpreted, misheard, or misunderstood at some point between the ending of the spring semester and this post. You see, the professor and the syllabus were very clear on the two exact starting dates for the continuation of the class; two exact dates. I at some point, wrote on the handed out syllabus above those two exact dates: “Start whenever you want, just notify the professor your six weeks is beginning.” Which was absolutely incorrect. I contacted Bret in the later part of last week (two months after the blog continuation was supposed to begin) and let’s just say he simply made me aware of my mistake.
Before responding to Bret’s awakening to what I had done, I let it sink to bottom. It stung and at first I wanted to strike back at him and challenge what he was saying based solely on what I had hand written on the top of my syllabus. Like that was the basis for a sound argument and for a brief moment, it was. But, that knee jerk was only there because I didn’t want to be wrong. But why didn’t I want to be wrong? Because I knew if what he was saying was right, it meant I had let him and the class down. No, there is no in classroom work to be done and yes, it’s all on my own accord. But the principles that were laid in the spring semester class is the foundation for the continuation of this class. And myself being late to the party, I disrespected those principles. No, it wasn’t intended, but yes it was real. I emailed Bret later that night with a clear but brief apology. I did not try and explain why it happened, I didn’t make any excuses, and if I did, both would have been irrelevant. I simply apologized and asked if there was recourse with the hope that I could with time restore those principles, that I could regain that trust? I didn’t hear from Bret for almost 24 hours and yep, it was nerve racking but in the end I am here writing now as a part of that class.
With that long winded introduction, the problem statement, and the resolution, I’m trying to convey something that we as leaders and project managers deal with every day and that is miscommunication and misunderstandings. We deal with those two team killers in two different ways. First, we have to address when someone on our team falls prey to miscommunication and second, when we ourselves the ones committing the crime. So, what do we do in each instance? What is effective and how can we do our best to actively avoid them in the future?
First, when it comes to one of our team members doing exactly what I did, our response is probably going to be based on how accountable the perpetrator is. Did they own up to the mistake? Did that make excuses? Where they willing to listen to the reality of the situation? There are many factors that are going to come into play here but ultimately, it must be addressed. If it’s something that can be repeated, you have to make an example of situation to set a precedence for the rest of the team members, no matter how minor. In the case of myself and Bret, well, we worked it out and what that deal was I’m not going to comment on, it’s up to him to share if he so choses. But when next semester rolls around and this comes up as an example of what NOT to do, Bret has to be able to say that there are consequences to not listening, not reading, and not clarifying. So, as leaders we must first make our team members aware, second be prepared to listen, then third provide resolution. And through that process we can set a precedence that while mistakes happen, there are consequences whether intentional or not.
Expert’s Input: I went out and found one of Bret’s blogs on communication and it’s about Aggressive vs. Assertive Communication. This is really important when we make our team members aware of a miscommunication. Bret summarizes it in a brief video and I’ll leave for you to watch but I want to quote him here: “The goal of assertive communication is to improve a situation or a behavior, not to win an argument or hurt another person.” That’s so true. Improve the situation should always be our goal because it’s going to have the most effective results. So remember, we can “lash out” or we can “lean in” I suggest the latter.
The second thing we as manager and leaders run into is when we are the ones at fault. Either we misunderstood someone on our team or we misunderstood those we report to. When it happens, and it is brought to our attention, we must be aware of the knee jerk response. As in my case you typically want to defend yourself, or make excuses.
Expert’s Input: A quick insert here. I did a little research and found a great post by Melissa Ritter, Ph.D. titled Why Is There So Much Miscommunication via Email and Text? In the article she goes through how the miscommunication happens, she gives an example, and talks about what we can do. But what is applicable here is she makes a reference to consideration from a different perspective and what it provides: “Allowing for this recognition offers us the possibility of composing a more measured and less defensive reply.” That is so good. “More measured,” this ties directly into what Bret was talking about above. Now, back to what managers/leaders can do when we’re the ones accused of misunderstanding.
We need to come to terms with the situation, intentional or not, it happened and it happened to us. So then it’s up to us to be a part of the best plan forward. Primarily we need to remember that we are leading and managing by example. How would we want a team member we’re managing to behave? It’s pretty plain at this point, suck it up. Swallow your pride and come to terms with the fact that you were party to a mistake. At this point it doesn’t matter if you are to blame or not, what matters most is finding a way through, learning from it, and making sure steps are taken so that it doesn’t happen again.
To conclude, how can we prevent these types of misunderstandings from happening? Or at least mitigate them? Communication, effective communication at that, and active clarification; and no, it’s not easy. As wonderful as the modern age is, writing an email, picking up the phone, or walking down the hall to calcify is apparently hard to do because this type of stuff happens all the time and it could have been avoided any number of ways that all involve communication. So, talk out loud, pester, and knock on doors. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just talk and ask your team to talk to you. You won’t see the difference much when it’s working, but you will definitely notice if it becomes a problem.
Image Credit: Sketch by Author