In many ways, I’m a lovely person. I’ll usually hold a door for you longer than most people, I’m the kind of person you can hand your purse to and come back 20 minutes later to find that I haven’t snooped. I’m hard-working, creative, resourceful and determined to be kind when it’s at all possible.
But I don’t like to talk about when I’m wrong, and I don’t like to discuss my mistakes unless there’s a greater good involved. I’ll totally admit them to you, and I’ll apologize and take responsibility where appropriate, but I get extremely defensive if I think you’re going to rub my nose into them. For example, a way this blows up in my face— when I was younger and didn’t realize this about myself, I might get caught speeding. My reaction to getting pulled over for speeding is to get mad at myself. I don’t have a poker face, so if I’m mad at myself and you meet me for the first time, like a traffic cop or a state patrolman might, you’re just going to see that I’m mad. And it’s only going to get worse if you ask me a set up question like “do you know why I pulled you over?” Even though I follow your instructions scrupulously, even though I’m polite. This means I can’t speed, as a rule, because I’m never ever going to charm my way out of a ticket.
Mostly, this is an annoying thing in my life, but not a huge impact thing. I really can’t speed, is all. But recently, I’ve started working more closely with a co-worker. I’m not sure how to explain her behavior in a neutral way, so I’ll just give you an example.
Someone called in and reported a problem with a program I manage. She told me “he was charged twice for the same program when he tried to buy two different programs. You need to process a refund and reregister him for the right program.” When I looked into it, a refund wasn’t necessary, because he registered for the right program, but was sent the wrong email. I was tempted just to handle it, but this coworker has the habit of putting me on the spot in front of others, and I didn’t want her to ask me, in front of someone else, why I didn’t process a refund. My answer would sound like an excuse. So I let her know that I wasn’t going to refund and reregister, but that I was going to address the customer’s need and resolve the issue.
Later, she came by and said “can I ask why that happened?” This is where I can’t tell whether it was her issue or mine. Because the truth, that I told her, was that it wasn’t something that the customer did wrong, and it’s not a product she serves at the point of sale— but that there were mistakes made by those of us who do serve at the point of sale— three of us involved all did things that contributed to the problem, which was easily remedied.
For me (to editorialize), this would have been enough. But it was like she wanted to know whose fault it was. So I went a bridge further, and talked about how the process was in transition from one department to another, and how one person didn’t do their part in a timely way and the person new to the process made it available for sale too early and…
Frankly, her pushing me about it ruined my day. In my opinion, my coworker in question doesn’t have the right to assign blame in this. I’m not a huge believer in blame, even when I don’t share in it, though in this case, I did contribute to the problems by missing a detail that needed updating. It’s important to understand that this coworker is not someone I report to—she’s actually junior to me in the organization, and not in charge of the processes around point-of-sale for this product. I had followed up and made it right with the customer, prevented further customers from having been affected, resolved the issue, and had it working again. It wasn’t a systemic failure, it was a one-off, messy transition.
To take it a step farther, is there a nice way to say “I’m not sure discussing why it failed is the best use of your time. Those of us involved have resolved the issue, it’s not likely to come up again. Thanks for calling it to our attention.”
Edited to add: In writing this, I can see how her motivation might not be about assigning blame, but in understanding the things you get wrong at the point of sale, so that she’s aware of the pitfalls as she sets up her own things for point of sale. Someone who felt less interrogated by her would probably react that way. I feel like almost every interaction with her is a bit of an interrogation, and one I just have to take for as long as it takes her to achieve perfect clarity. I really struggle with that sense that she’s waiting for me to make a mistake and to hold my feet to the fire. I had another interaction with her recently, where I asked her to stop sending the “sorry, try this workaround” message for another product and to start sending the trouble complaints about it to me, so I could gather more information. She cornered me later and asked if my vendor was going to fix it. I said “sort of,” and explained the situation. “So they’re going to fix it, then,” she said. I feel like every conversation is designed to end with me yelling “I give, I give! I’ll confess to whatever you want!”