Butt-Kicked by the Universe
Oh man, did I do something stupid, embarrassing and untrustworthy today.
A colleague forwarded me a calendar invite originally sent by a client. I NEVER respond to an actual calendar invite as if it’s an email; I always respond to the actual invitation using the buttons “accept,” “reject,” or “tentative.”
But today, for reasons unknown only to whoever is in charge of the universe, I replied (I thought!!) to my colleague, regarding the client (Fred).
“…I’m so mad at Fred…seems like he hasn’t sent out all the materials we worked on last week. I am trying not to be pissed. I’m really frustrated. I’m trying to hold off getting too irate in case he did send stuff out…”
You guessed it. My response went straight to Fred.
He wrote back, “Hi Sarah, was this meant for me?”
That Gut-Punched Feeling
Ughh. As I had been writing that email, my gut was screaming at me: “You always say not to put in writing anything you wouldn’t be comfortable having the whole world read.”
You could say – I would – that the universe intervened because I had violated the “Inner Voice” rule. The Inner Voice Rule is, “Say the things you’re thinking but don’t share.” It’s where truth lies, and turbo-boosts the Intimacy component of the Trust Equation.
The Inner Voice Rule.
I groaned. Then I immediately wrote back to Fred: “I am so embarrassed. The email was meant for Julie, not you, and I’m sorry. Are you somewhere I can call you?” We spoke five minutes later.
I started: “Fred, I’m so sorry. I knew as I was typing that email that I needed to pick up the phone and call you…I’m aware I have been avoiding a conversation with you.” Fred was extra-gracious, acknowledging that he hadn’t met his commitments and that he understood where my frustration came from.
He then said, “And we’ve both been to Trusted Advisor programs,” which created a clearing for us to deal in an authentic way with the trust breakdown. We worked through things; we both left the conversation having said what we needed to say, and feeling complete (and a commitment on my part to talk to Fred next time instead of complaining to my colleague).
He sent out the materials within 15 minutes.
The Universe Kicks Butt
I’m a bit fearful of calling myself a hypocrite on a blogpost destined for internet eternity. But if I’m real about it, what I salvaged from my mess du jour is that I talk a big game about clear speaking, using Inner Voice, and sharing constructive feedback – while the truth is, I’m woefully out of practice. I choose to believe that the universe intervened today to give me a butt kick wake up call; to call me on being real and not a poser.
There, I said it.
So: what did I learn from the Universe today?
- NEVER, EVER put in writing anything you wouldn’t want shared with the world
- When what you have to say about another serves to diminish them, it’s time to either:
a) admit you’ve been a jerk and have a conversation with that person, or
b) own up and end the relationship.
- The courage to have un-had conversations leads to growth, learning and deeper trust.
- If we think of constructive feedback as “scary, bad, judgmental or otherwise” then we don’t share the most important stuff. Then all that stuff builds up and – we send stupid emails.
- If you make a mess – make it Priority One to clean it up immediately.
A great reminder and very gutsy post, Sarah. I’ve always thought that one of the outstanding things about being human is the rich array of opportunities to embarrass ourselves each day. And I seem to be pretty good at maxing out my potential in this area.
Peter – I absolutely agree that there is an aspect of making ourselves vulnerable as human beings that in many cases helps to deepen trust. In this case it was accidental – AND, I’m grateful for a whole lot of learning as a result of experience.
An important cautionary tale: remember the perils of all thing electronic; that’s a great thing to keep in mind. The larger lesson, be direct and specific if things are awry with colleagues and friends, is more difficult to do. It might mean adopting some different language and dropping some defenses, but once one realizes how crucial this is, life and communicating about it gets easier. Thanks for this excellent piece!
I would bet that most of us have similar messes that we’ve created. If only we all had the courage to clean them up with such authenticity!!!
Darcy, someone who read the post wrote to me separately and said she has a client who almost lost his job over a similar situation. In his case it sounds like he didn’t deal with it immediately and that contributed to making the mess even messier. Thankfully he didn’t loose his job.
Similar I think to the Inner Voice rule is Mahan Khalsa’s saying “If you feel it, find a way to say it”.
Looks like technology did that for you!
Ian, thanks for sharing about Khalsa’s saying – it’s perfect. I hadn’t heard that before.
I like it a lot. It was written for people selling professional/consulting services – so it’s especially brave (and so especially effective) in commercial situations with a potential client. It’s from his book “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play”.
You might enjoy this interview I did last year with Mahan Khalsa.
His book, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play was a formidable influence on me.
Another great example of how business really is relationship-based and we should never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with human beings. Communication is always key. Couple that with courage and grace and you have credibility and authenticity. Loved this post! I have been there myself, but was too young (at the time) to understand the consequences of not addressing it quickly. Collateral damage was broken trust.
Sarah – what a great lesson you learned from the Universe and shared with us. Thank you. There may be another lesson here. You actually did what was truly needed. That is, to have that very conversation with Fred. Imagine if your email had be delivered to the person you had intended – there would have been two messes to clean up! You did not say something about Fred to a third person (excluding all of us that is), and got to have the needed conversation with Fred. There is balance again in the Universe!
Stewart – a great point. Your comment reminded me to mention that I shared the blogpost with “Fred” and he wrote back that he loved it.
Hi Sarah. All of us have shared that horrible realization that a note went to the wrong person. I actually wrote a book on the topic of the body language we use online. In it I have a chapter on developing your “cyberpal” who can help you guard against writing things you would not say to another individual.
Hello BWhipple – what is the name of the book you wrote?
i remeber many years ago someone telling me that the devil can only hear what you say- he can’t hear what you think. Whatever you believe in, it seems to me to be a good rule to follow. The easiest thing to do when hurt, or dissappointed by someone, is to share your feelings with the next sympathetic ear. (After all, sharing is all about building relationships and when we share we are being transparent aren’t we?) But we are being selectively transparent, because we are not sharing those thoughts with everyone, and not with the person we are talking about.
I try not to say anything I couldn’t say in front of anyone. But I’m no saint and often blurt out what should be private. Worse, it’s not really private as much as it’s work in progress that I should be fixing, not talking.
A good friend tells a story about him at a big social event and asking a colleague if he’s seen that woman walking in through the door at that moment. “What dreadful clothes she’s wearing, and her make-up looks like she’s in the circus, and that whiney voice.” You know what’s coming even before I tell you – ” Ah yes, that’s my wife.”
It’s only funny when you are a spectator. Remember, the devil can only use what you say, not what you think.
Chris – my brother says one should not say anything about another that they would not be willing to say to that person’s face. I find this easy to do in theory and very hard to do in practice. Your point about the devil using only what you say and not what you think opens an entirely new conversation, at least for me. Perhaps the real question or challenge in all of this is finding ways to say what we need to say in a way others can hear…and, a precursor to saying anything is assuming positive intent. I do think too many issues arise when people withhold and don’t have the courage to share how they feel about something. It starts to get really complicated. Thanks for your comment. Lots to noodle on.