October 9, 2015

Here's something you already know

There is a difference between assuming nothing and hammering things home well past the time the point has been made.

I had a conversation recently where I was asked why I ask people to do things they’re already doing. During a staff update this week, I made an explicit request in response to an email that had gone out that was not explicit; once again I was informed that everyone knew that.

On the one hand, it sucks to be patronised. No one wants to be Grandma, being taught to suck eggs. On the other hand, from my perspective, I really, really don’t want to have forgotten to set some kind of context for you to do your job well.

So, for that reason I will end up patronising you for one of two reasons:

  1. Because it got on my list. Once this happens it doesn’t matter if you have already told me you are going to paint it red, I’m gonna ask you to paint it red. This is just closing an open loop, and I’m still learning how to do that without being a moron.
  2. Because I don’t know what you know. I don’t know what assumed knowledge you have and how you have interpretated something.

The latter point has come directly out of a very specific piece of coaching I once had aimed at learning how to work with one of my colleagues. The solution was about empathy and recognising the following anti-pattern:

  • I am angry about a thing
  • My colleague has no idea what my problem with thing is
  • I show up angry to have a conversation about thing
  • My colleague gets defensive
  • I assume obstinance and get more aggressive, escalating the situation

All because I assumed he knew about the thing before we started having a conversation.

The lesson I took from this was to never assume. It makes an ass out of you and me (said my grandboss at the time). Equally, offer opportunities for other people to tell you what they know, so you can move the conversation forward in a useful way.

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