Just a Little Courage and a Question

Years ago, I developed training programs. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from one of the instructors was a simple strategy to find clarity. The strategy was so valuable that it could save someone from an angry explosion – which, in turn, could save a job.

What, you may ask, is this miraculous approach that saves jobs and prevents the proverbial egg on your face?

Here’s the story:

My boss had assigned me a project, offering very little in the way of explanation of how to conduct the project and how the results needed to be reported. All I knew was that I had until a particular date to survey people and report the results.

The day came to report and I was excited! I had received responses that no one believed were possible.

Setting up a grid to show the answers to my survey, I used an Excel spread sheet with an X and Y axis. The results were plain to see.

When it was time to sit down with my boss and share the results, I explained my findings.

The boss looked over the grid and flung the survey paperwork dismissively on her desk. “This is not exactly what I was looking for,” she said.

I was about to explode! I’d put in several weeks of hard work to get those results and numbers. How dare she! I was on the borderline of telling her off – and not in polite words.

But, something popped in my head from the training sessions: A magic phrase that could get me my answer and keep me from storming out of the room, and probably result in firing.

I screwed up my courage – and that was difficult because the boss was known for being intimidating.

What exactly would you have liked me to do differently?” I said, trying not to explode or burst into tears of frustration.

“Oh, we usually put axis X where your axis Y is located. We’d switch them around.”

She said that casually, like I should have known that. However, she had never given me any guidelines on that detail, ever.

“I can get you that information in 20 minutes, let me do that now,” I responded, hiding my sigh of relief. I exited her office and returned to my desk, where I did fix the graph the way she wanted it.

And, I had the remodeled chart to her in less than 20 minutes. Handing it to her, I even saw her give a slight glimmer of a smile. High praise, indeed, from such a demanding manager!

My work was great, but the slight issue was how I presented the report on the page!

So, if you are being challenged and cut off at the knees by someone who questions your work or results, use that expression:

WHAT EXACTLY WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED ME TO DO DIFFERENTLY?

Keep your cool, fix the issue, keep smiling and take a deep breath.

Life will go on and, likely, the concern will be forgotten.

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