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Feedback or First Born

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Tue Dec 14 2021

Feedback or First Born
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My role as an IT administrator covers a wide spectrum of responsibilities, ranging from coaching, training, hardware and software support, budgeting, installs, and so on. You name it, I do it. I’m also a rare breed of an IT administrator with a professional development background. Therefore, at heart, I’m a strategist who models process performance improvement as it relates to actions and behaviors, which brings me to this post regarding feedback.

Recently, I was tasked with a project of ordering a new printer for the receptionist, a task simple enough that it fell through the cracks. A month later my director asked for an update. I grimaced then ordered the printer, which was delivered and installed within a week.

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During our weekly status meeting, my director conveyed how she thought the process took too long and how it had affected the receptionist’s work. I took responsibility for my late action and expressed how I have guard rails in place to avoid a recurrence of this irresponsibility. An offer to share my plan was expressed; however, she wasn’t interested in hearing my plan. She continued expressing her disappointment and wanted me to fully understand how work was impacted. I told her I understood how this had affected work and looked forward to redeeming this error by exercising the plan I have put into place. Her response was, “I don’t care about the plan or how sorry you are. I want you to understand.”

My initial silent internal reaction considering what more I could say or do to redeem my error.

Was my admittance or regret not enough? What would work: Drawing blood or giving her my first born? I admit there were a few seconds when I wanted to say, “Now you're pushing it.” While taken aback by her statement, however, I reached into Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements self-training and stated that I did my best by rectifying the situation and I would not take this personally. Yet, I couldn’t help but think my director was taking this situation personally. Speculating, her perception of this conversation could have been that my regret of the situation should have been more dire or sorrowful rather than apologetic and redeemable. Perhaps in her mind, apologizing was an attempt to pacify the situation or her.

Rather than try to discuss the plan or apologize further, I altered the conversation by seeking agreement. These statements were initiated for clarity and agreement:

  • The printer for the receptionist was not ordered in a timely manner, which impacted the receptionist’s work.

  • The situation could not occur again, and I need to do my best to make sure this doesn’t happen.

As I presented these statements, I sought agreement by asking if she approved of what I said. She responded, “Yes,” but her body language indicated she was still annoyed. I proceeded with, “What I’m also hearing from this overall conversation, is you’re not quite sure if I understand the implications of this issue. What can I do to convince you that I fully understand?” Silence. I felt redeemed and imagined a mic drop. She finally said, “I think we’re good for now, and I’m sure it won’t happen again.” I agreed and asked if there are any other topics she wanted to discuss. The conversation shifted, and we resumed our normal weekly status meeting.

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Looking back at this experience, there were two lessons learned:

  • Just because I apologize doesn’t mean it will be received.

  • As a leader, where do we draw the line on accountability?

After my apology wasn’t received, I could have walked away with an, “Oh well, that’s on her.” But it was important for our relationship to get to the root of what was really happening and that was her lack of assurance that I truly understood the situation. Secondly, as a leader, where was her culpability in crediting her employee with taking full responsibility and devising a plan to avoid a recurrence. Unrecognizing the needs of both parties in this situation could have erupted into an unpleasant situation or destroyed a professional relationship.

Feedback from any angle is necessary, but we all must exercise restraint on curtailing either receiving or delivering feedback from a personal place. In this situation, both parties were on the verge of making this personal, hence diluting the true feedback resulting in an unsolvable problem. Our job, whether as the recipient or deliverer, is to recognize the signs and work at having a productive conversation rather than one that is altered by individualized misperception.

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