I made a mistake at work last week. Well, I have mixed feelings about whether or not it was a mistake, but I’m fully willing to take responsibility for what happened. Here it is…
I was part of a big meeting that spanned two days. We did a survey of our clients, and my job was to sift through all the data and come up with a report, which I did. It took me days. I alone had all the information at my fingertips, and the report I wrote was 30 pages. As this meeting was about what clients wanted, I was part of it to lead us going through the report.
At the beginning of the meeting, my boss made a short speech about not stopping to argue points yet. We’re just going to go through the document, pull out the important information, and then get down and dirty to really flesh it out. She reminded me of this a few minutes later, when it seemed I was going to panic about one of the options to respond to an issue. In my head, I was like ‘that’s going to fall on me!’. I’m not afraid to get more work, but I don’t have much down time as it is. As in none. I quickly changed my way of thinking so that whatever arose from this meeting meant that we were all going to figure out the best way to handle it, and nothing was going to be thrown at one person.
A few hours later, an argument sprung up. The boss had brought up an idea, and a fellow colleague brought up some serious concerns about the possibility of that idea. Things got heated. We all gave our sides, but it was clear this argument needed time to simmer down. I did exactly what my boss had done to me earlier, and said ‘why don’t we write this down, think about it, and then come back to it.’
That, apparently, was the worst mistake I could ever make.
My boss was furious with me for staunching the flow of the conversation. She told me it wasn’t my place to manage the meeting, and the reason for this meeting was to get things like this out. Affronted, I quickly tried to repeat what she had said early, but when her anger didn’t subside, I decided the best thing to do was to apologize, and say, truthfully, that my intention was not at all to belittle her or put her in her place. In my mind, I felt completely verbally abused and shocked, and couldn’t believe that my actions had caused such a reaction. I was mortified, and felt awful.
A little later in the day, she kind of looked at me and said she understood that I was just trying to keep the meeting moving. I was glad she acknowledge that, and felt slightly better, but it didn’t stop be obsessing about it for the rest of the night. I have apparently personally insulted my boss, and I was worried about it.
I made up my mind that anything that made me feel this bad needed to be dealt with. At my first opportunity, I got her alone and explained that offending her was by far, not my intention. I admitted that I’d been up most of the night thinking about it, and felt really bad for my actions. I was thankful when she said she’d spend the night thinking about it as well, wondering why she’d gotten so angry. She said it surprised her, and she’d been trying to sort it out in her head. We talked, and agreed that politically perhaps I wasn’t the best person to tell the boss that she was off track (not that I’d used those exact words). I made sure she knew that I’d learned a lesson, but at the same time, made sure she knew what I felt and where I had been coming from, and my shock at her reaction to just trying to follow her own orders.
This sounds like a properly wrapped up story, doesn’t it? Then why am I still obsessing about it? It’s been days, she and I have talked and worked as normal, but I still feel somehow like what was done to me wasn’t… just. I know that as the boss of a company, she has final say, no matter what. She’s not a tyrant by any means, but it is her company. It’s the mixed signals that are messing with me.
In the last year of working here, I’ve had a lot of conversations about ‘being a leader’ and ‘managing the team’. It’s come up a lot, and I’ve been told over and over that me and another guy on the team are the future of the company. I’ve been told that my willingness to fight for loyalty, and make us as productive as possible, are just what they’re looking for. Then why, when I try to push forward on that trend, am I met with such sudden and harrowing reactions? You want me to push forward and see what I can do, but then you turn around and do what you can to push me down again.
I’m not taking this one instance only. This happened to be recent, and big, but it happens all the time. A website that we use to manage material recently updated, and because we’re in the middle of our own rebuild, I brought it to attention as an example of how an upgrade can severely harm your existing clients. It lost tons of functionality, because much harder to read (and I’m only 28 with perfect vision), and in general just made life more difficult. During the meeting, but boss said ‘the whole team should give them feedback’. I thought, okay, awesome. I’d already given feedback, but the rest of the team had all complained to me, so they can give feedback as well. The next morning, I sent out an email saying politely to tell this company what they’d been telling me. Just take two minutes, and type it out. Of course I copied her on the email.
I get a response, replied to ALL of the staff, saying she didn’t think it was worth the company time and money to spend time helping a different company fix their mistakes. Okay… the only reason I sent that email was because she said we should all do this! What the #$%@!! Not only did you go against what you said overnight, but now you’ve copied the entire team on it, undermining my authority and telling them they don’t have to take any of my ideas seriously.
I like the company I work for. I believe in what they’re trying to do, and I like our product. I have some colleagues in the office that I enjoy working with, and I have met with some serious praise with some of the hard work I’ve been doing. I don’t want to be one of those people who focus only on the negative, but it’s hard to get around actions like this.
And it gets stranger. My frustration led me to do something I make sure never to do. I talked to one of my colleagues about it. I don’t mean we never communicate, but I don’t complain about the boss to the people I work with. I don’t think gossip is useful, and talking to one another is not as affective as facing the problem head on. But when I talked to him, I was surprised at his complete understanding. He’d never come to me about it, but it turned out we were experiencing close to the same things? Especially with frustration of every day working conditions. He gave me examples, and information on what he’d tried to do to change things. I was shocked. More so when he told me of some previous employees who’d quit for close to the same reasons I was feeling frustrated.
So what gives? If it’s been going on this long, is it really worth sticking around? That sounds hot-headed. I’m not a ‘I’m going to quit’ type of person. But suddenly I feel like if it’s been like this for years, even with other people bringing up the issue, there’s now no hope for change. That brings on the hard questions. Would I be willing to put up with this for the next… let’s say five years? Heck no! And why haven’t I noticed until now? I think because I was new at first, eager to please, and then I was new to being part of the head team. Now that I’m not, I’m being welcomed into a world of frustration, chaos, complaining and hopelessness. And I seriously don’t like it.
I believe in life. I say that to mean a few things. I believe that you can make of life what you want. When people tell me they hate their jobs, I think ‘fix it or find a new one’. I had a friend who stayed working at the same horrible job for years, always hating it, always getting shit on, and never did anything. It bled into the rest of her life, and she was always unhappy. When I’m unhappy, I sit down and figure out why. Sometimes it’s not always that easy, but if your answer is ‘I hate my job’ then you should change that.
I take responsibility for the things I do wrong. Telling the boss of a company she was getting off track, no matter how polite I was about it, was the wrong thing to do. I know that. I won’t do it again. But I also won’t put up with a career that sends me home at night with stomach twisted in anxiety because I don’t know how to handle someone who flips so much. I was completely unhappy in my relationship, as anyone would know if they’ve been reading this blog. I was so unhappy it affected my health, my job, my creativity… when I ended it, I felt amazing. I felt free. I knew it would be hard, but I was determined to be happy. I still am.
So should I take the lead? Should I go to my boss with me feelings, perhaps with some of the things the other employee said (anonymously of course) and tell her what the team is feeling? That could seriously put me in my place as the bad guy, and it could make me an enemy to my boss. And I’m not the team leader, no matter what conversations the boss has had with me in the past. But to do nothing, in this environment, I’m certain will result in nothing.
What to do…