Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Are You Being Documented?

Are you being documented?

If you have received or been told about documentation against you, then you need to make a decision about whether or not you should respond. If you decide to respond, you should figure out when and how.

I can give you an example, from my past, about how documentation--even about something that doesn't initially seem like an extremely big deal--can cause you to lose your job. An African American coworker received a memo that attributed the typographical errors of other staff to her. It was known that she did not make these mistakes. Yet, she was told, in writing, that this lack of quality control was unacceptable. She continued to be accused of making such errors--made by other workers--because it helped show a pattern of negative behavior that was later used as part of the justification to place her on probation and threaten her with termination. She was subjected to such a hostile and offensive work environment, she was forced to resign (also known as constructive termination).

If accusations are made against you, always keep in the back of your mind that even "simple" accusations can be used to launch a campaign of escalation against you. If you are seeing or hearing certain red flag words or phrases at work, you should start planning for worst case scenarios because certain language can indicate that you are going to receive a negative performance review or a memo indicating repeated performance deficiencies, that you may be suspended or placed on probation or that termination could be in your future (depending on the nature of the accusations).

I’ve created a brief list of words or phrases that should make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. If you see or hear some of these words and phrases and they are preceded or followed by a negative comment, watch your back and keep your eyes open!

With that in mind, some red flag words and phrases include:

• “Consistently” or “often” or “frequently” or “repeatedly” or “chronically” or “habitually,” etc. - The point is that you have allegedly demonstrated a pattern of making the same mistake or exhibiting the same negative behavior, such as demonstrating a bad poor attitude, arriving to work late, missing deadlines, etc.

• “I’ve noticed…” – For the same reason as above.

• “Many people…” or “Some people…” or “A number of people…” or “Everyone” - The point is to show that there is corroboration for the accusation. It’s not just one person’s point of view that you have a problem--everyone or many people allegedly believe the same thing. People making this statement, generally won’t name names, they’ll just make a blanket statement about so-called mass perceptions about you.

• “I’ve talked to you in the past about…” - The point is not just to criticize you, but to show that you have shown no improvement in some negative behavior that was previously brought to your attention. It documents a so-called continuing problem.

• “I’m concerned by…” or “I’m puzzled by…” or “I’m troubled by…” - The point is to show that there is something extremely off-putting or unprofessional about your behavior and that it likely represents a potentially major problem.

• “If you would have…” or “If you had only” or “I thought that you…” - The point is the “you” part of the sentence because the writer is stating that you are solely to blame for something going wrong.

These are just examples of some subtle ways that you can be documented for performance deficiencies at work. If the allegation isn’t true, this represents a potentially devastating problem; in terms of your ability to maintain a positive reputation and any impact the misrepresentations may have your performance evaluations, etc.

Receiving one criticism may not be a big deal, even though it could represent someone’s effort to document you. It’s the form that the criticism takes that makes a written complaint have the potential to be extremely damaging to your reputation. It’s one thing to be told that you have missed a deadline, but it’s another to be told that you “consistently” miss deadlines.

Please note: An insolated incidence of criticism usually has no right to appear in your performance evaluation, even if it did involve major issue. Normally, any atypical behavior is included in the notes/comments of a performance evaluation. Therefore, if an incident was isolated, your review should not be tainted to make it appear as if this was a recurring problem. It can be noted on your evaluation, but your review should be reflective of your consistent and normal work performance.
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