Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Put Things in Perspective

One of the issues many African American workers deal with are coworkers, supervisors, managers, etc., who blow small problems or issues out of proportion—sometimes intentionally.

It’s very troubling, when people blow things out of proportion, particularly innocent mistakes that are atypical and do not represent a problem that should cause concern or needs to be monitored.

Someone will take an innocent mistake or human error and make it seem as if something diabolical has happened. They may also use an honest mistake to claim that a person is incompetent. Even a minor mistake can be blown out of proportion and used as the rationale to strip someone of certain assignments or responsibilities.

For instance, a White Vice President once accused me of intentionally leaving a White, male’s promotion off of the monthly promotion announcement list I prepared. After stating that I’d inadvertently left the name off the list and taking responsibility for the oversight, I asked why I was being accused of making the mistake intentionally. The White Vice President responded, “You’ve been doing these lists for two years and you never left anyone off.” I explained that this was why the mistake was an inadvertent omission. But, I was told. “It just seems suspicious to me.”

In my case, a human error was turned into a cause for suspicion. Think about it…what would my motive be for leaving this man’s promotion off the list? He was a stranger to me. Even if he wasn’t, what did I have to gain from the omission? The accusation was just plain stupid, but that didn’t stop the VP from telling others that I intentionally omitted the person from the promotion list! This minor problem was noted in my performance review, 6 months later!

When dealing with false accusations, especially those based on exaggeration of facts (or outright fabrications that are added to a situation in order to escalate an issue), you should definitely make sure to protect your reputation and make sure that the accusation doesn’t come back to haunt you. As I’ve stated, you could hear about an innocent mistake on a mid-year or year-end performance evaluation, even if it wasn’t a costly error.

So, you should address the issue with the person that is doing the exaggerating or misrepresentation. You can talk to them about the issue or you can email them first and ask for a time to discuss what happened and to clarify things. Make it clear that what they believe or are saying is not consistent with your perspective. You don’t have to point fingers. You can simply state the facts as you know them to be.

If you didn't do anything wrong, use facts, copies of procedures/instructions, emails or other written evidence, and/or witnesses to defend yourself.

If you really made an error, then explain how it happened and that it was inadvertent. It’s important to get that clarified, so that you can use your conversation and/or documentation to fight back against any accusations that you are incompetent. It’s fine to apologize for an honest mistake, but don’t let an honest mistake be portrayed as a problem of competence—if it is not.

If you require extra training on something or need clarification of procedures, ask for it. See if a coworker can discreetly assist you in some areas. Try to work through as many issues on your own as possible. If there are procedures you can read or reread, get cracking to improve your knowledge. If there are tutorials in a software program or an online service you work in, use the tutorials. You can come to work early, leave late, train on your lunch break, etc. The onus is on you to get up to speed on your job skills, if you know you are lacking. Be proactive in seeking whatever assistance you need. Don’t sit there knowing that you are unsure about certain parts of your job. Get help. Sometimes that means asking for official training courses, workshops, etc.

If the issue is that you were trained improperly, don’t let someone’s faulty instructions cause you problems at work. Most of us have been trained by someone, who was retiring or resigning (even forced out) or by someone that is the type of person that will intentionally leave out instructions because they don’t want someone doing something as good as they do it or did it. Some people will intentionally sabotage others and some people are just bad at preparing or relaying instructions.

Regardless of the cause, if you were improperly trained and/or given bad instructions, then bring that up and document it because that is a legitimate reason for a problem to surface. It’s fine to explain that you are doing things based on training and/or instructions you were given. Show a copy of those procedures and explain how the procedures were the source of the problem. Ask for a copy of the correct procedures and stick to those. Don’t let someone else’s issue be blown out of proportion and turned into your problem.

Just remember to document any accusations that could be used against you later to claim that you are incompetent and that might be used to justify employment actions against you, such as verbal or written warnings, probation, suspension, termination, etc.

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