Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.
– Mark Twain –
I didn’t realize that I had stopped getting embarrassed at work until I was working at a large non-profit corporation and one of the guys on my team mentioned it. It got me thinking. I know I have been embarrassed at work, especially early in my career. At one point, while working for WordPerfect. After I had Saved The EPA we had to figure out a way to replicate that success. I ended up getting moved back into a support role and the EPA could still call me, but I was no longer quite as visible and I was feeling a little disappointed. I didn’t handle it well. During a call with the EPA network administrator I vented a little more than I should have. Okay, probably a lot more than I should have. I didn’t realize that phone calls were recorded. . .until. . .I met with my manager, the head of support and I think there was someone else there. I was smart enough to realize that I had screwed up and be properly embarrassed. I think management realized it was a rookie mistake and I didn’t lose my job, although I certainly could have and the company would have been justified.
So, there have certainly been times in my career that I’d been embarrassed about. And it’s not like I don’t still make mistakes.
At this same non-profit where my team pointed out my lack of embarrassment, I remember going into an “Outage Review Meeting.” That’s not what we called them, but it was a meeting we held after something broke. We gathered the involved parties and tried to figure out who to blame. Oh, management would deny that was the purpose of these meetings, but essentially, the team managers went into that meeting with the goal of getting as little of the outage blame assigned to their team as possible. But, I was new, and I didn’t want to play the “Don’t blame me” game.
Yeah, that was a mistake on my team. We didn’t see the alert. It was sent. We just missed it. We’ve made some process changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And that was it. Afterward another manager pulled me aside.
Why did you do that?
Accept blame for that outage.
Ah. . .because my team screwed up. Hasn’t your team ever just missed something and it caused an outage?
Well sure, but no one ever admits it!
I tried to think of what the difference was between my screwup at WordPerfect at the beginning of my career and situations now that don’t affect me as much.
That’s what I think the difference is. I like the Twain Quote above, but my favorite Mark Twain quote is
If you tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.
I think that was it. I’ve learned that it’s much easier to be 100% truthful, in both my actions and my motivations. In The Biggest Raise I Ever Received, I talk about why I bought free soda and bottled water for my programmers. It wasn’t because I was altruistic, I wasn’t. Instead, I did the math and it was cheaper to get extra work from them with free pop than with any other method. But, the thing is, I TOLD my team why I was doing it. Dave, the head of the developers said,
I know you are using this to manipulate me. And yet even knowing that, it still works. That’s amazing.
Once I started being completely honest, I had to make sure my motives were also honest and could stand scrutiny. That wasn’t always easy. Sometimes we want to spare someone our true feelings. Or we think that keeping some information to ourselves will give us some advantage.
At one point, at this same non-profit, another department really screwed up. They screwed up so badly that it almost cost us a project that we had been working on for 3 months. I did what I needed to salvage the project, but I was livid at the screw up of the other team. They had promised to deliver a service and then the day it was to be implemented they informed us that they changed their mind and weren’t going to deliver it after all.
We got the service, but I had to pull in a lot of favors and I also burned several bridges. I decided the project was important enough to warrant it. A couple of weeks later, after I’d cooled down, I went and talked to the director of the other department.
Darrell, your guys nearly caused our project to fail right at the end.
Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I went back after we talked and reread the email thread where you requested the service weeks in advance. Our team totally dropped the ball.
I was coming here today to tell you that I would NEVER work with your team again. I knew I would need to, but I was prepared to tell you that I would do everything possible to avoid having my projects’ success dependent on your team.
But, you’ve had some personal changes in the last couple of weeks. When Roger, the team manager over that team left the company I decided that I’m willing to make the attempt to restart the relationship.
Well, I appreciate your frustration. Hopefully, we will be a better partner going forward.
I hope so.
Darrell and I were friends, so I had an idea of the reception I would get from him. But, I felt that being completely honest with him on my feelings was the right way to go. Two days later I got a phone call,
Hello, this is Rodney.
Yeah, this is Paul. I’m an engineer in Darrell’s division. I was wondering if you would let me take you to lunch, my treat, and talk about the needs your team has and how we can help you with those?
I realized that the reason I don’t get embarrassed at work is that I’m conducting myself in a way that I’m comfortable with anyone knowing about. Back at WordPerfect when I was crying to the EPA about my boss, I knew that was not a conversation I would be comfortable with management hearing. I no longer have those conversations.
I don’t know that I’ve completely taken Twain’s advice to not remember anything, but it’s amazing what a difference just a slight change of attitude made. I didn’t do it to avoid embarrassment, but I’ll take that as an added bonus.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.
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