TAWTST: Is that my problem?

TAWTST, readers, is the acronym I’m experimenting with for now- if you have comments, send them over- it’s not exactly pronounceable at this point!

This TAWTST moment is brought to you courtesy of email.  I have a whole BUNCH of thoughts on email, and how it fosters a lot of communication problems, but that is a series for another week.    Today I want to talk about the “Is that my problem?” response.

A friend of mine recently received an email from a heated colleague at his workplace.  They had been part of a team working on a project together, and apparently my friend had made some minor error in a calculation.  As he tells it, his error was based on information he didn’t have, so there was no way he could have known he was making a mistake.

He received an email that essentially said:  “What is going on with these numbers?  I don’t understand why they’re not matching the previous set we have.  I’m very confused.  We need to follow (algorithm X) for all the calculations.  I am not updating 75 calculations every time one number changes.

Hunh.  My immediate response is- is that my problem?  Instead of feeling guilty about having made a mistake, and wanting to work to correct it and help out my teammate, I have all the wrong reactions to that last statement.  Sounds to me like….updating 75 calculations IS your job, and if you choose to do it or not to do it, well…..it’s NOT really my problem, now is it?   And if you’re just plain NOT going to do it, well, okay.  Don’t tell me about it, because I’m not the person you’re reporting to.

So what’s the way to say that?  The best option is to turn to the innocuous third person mode, or the royal “we”.  How about:  We need to follow (algorithm X) for all the calculations.  It’s extremely difficult and time-consuming otherwise, because we have to update 75 calculations every time one number changes.  Eight extra words, (and you could even cut out a couple if you are so inclined).  Suddenly, we are on the same team instead of being at odds with one another.  The “we” unites the two of them against the “others” out there, and also implies that my friend may be the one updating those calculations one of these days.  Very few people actually want to create more work or make life difficult for their colleagues (or themselves)- most people aren’t malicious, and it’s not a wise move politically.

So now, my friend is much more likely to apologize for his error, be mindful of proper procedure, and move on…

…or is he?

Tomorrow’s post- his response and JDSI.  :)



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