I love sayings and quotes by the unknown author. Seems like unknown really knows their stuff. One of my favorite unknown quotes is, 'Do not make mountains out of molehills'. Another quote by an unknown author that expands on the mountain-molehill quote is, 'A single moment of misunderstanding is so poisonous, that it makes us forget the hundred loveable moments spent together within a minute'. Misunderstandings at work are unavoidable but there are things that we can do to prevent our molehill sized misunderstandings from becoming mountains we have to climb to communicate with one another.
I recall a time a few years ago, I was on assignment with a large corporate client when I received a call from a human resource representative. This HR representative and I had previously replaced phone calls, emails, instant messages and had recently met face-to-face. Her office was located in another state with another time zone. Her office had a position that had not been filled in over a year.
I was on the job only two months and had located the ideal candidate. Part of the reason I was hired was to fill the difficult-to-fill positions that had been open so long as well as press both the hiring managers and human resources to be more responsive.
This HR representative was aware that the hiring manager had conducted a telephone interview with the candidate and the department was eager to proceed to the next step in the process which was to fly in the candidate for a panel interview. The HR representative was responsible for making the arrangements to fly in mandates and setting up the interviews. I placed a call and left a voice message for her. I then sent her an email and a text message. I waited a few hours and went home; I figured she would respond in the morning. The next day was a Wednesday. I once again had to leave a voice message. I called the hiring manager to see if he could tell me where she was but there was no answer at his number so I sent him an email. I tried to instant message the hiring manager and HR representative but both of their instant message connections were turned off. On Thursday I once again tried to reach the HR representative but received the same silence. I knew that site had a 4 day work week so I would not be able to reach her the next day and I didnt want the candidate to wait the entire week-end wondering if they were really going to have a panel interview or not. Also, it was important to get this candidate in ASAP to make sure he did not have too much time to visit other companies or wonder why we were dragging our feet. On Thursday afternoon I left a final voice message asking her to please reach out to the candidate and make the necessary arrangements. I mentioned that I surprised what might be wrong as she has previously been very responsive and I had not been able to get ahold of her all week.
The following week I was surprised to see this HR representative at the office where I worked. It turned out that she was visiting another site the previous week and had not been in her office. She was visiting our company site for three days and then flying back to her site where she would resume her duties the following Monday. I told her I had been trying to reach her but she claimed she never received any voice messages, emails or texts. She then made the arrangements for the candidate to interview and I thought the matter was put to rest.
Two weeks go by and she must have decided to check on all of her messages at work. She finally hears my previous messages about arranging the flight and interview date for our out of state candidate. The HR representative calls me up and is very upset with me. She said I was rude and did not like my tone and that she already arranged for the candidate to come in and interview. I had no idea what she was referring to. The last voice message I had left for her was 2 weeks prior on a Thursday expressing my concern that we get this candidate in for an interview ASAP and wondering if there was something wrong as she is usually very responsive.
Finally I realized she must have picked up my old voice message and I let her know that she was referring to something that we had already discussed when she paid a visit to our office the previous week. There was a long pause on her end as she pieced together the trail of the conversation and series of mishaps regarding lost messages. She apologized once she understood why I had the tone I did when I left the message two weeks ago, as it was indeed critical to contact the candidate right away. She realized the tone was one of urgency for the situation and not demanding bossiness. Still, after we hung up the phone I recalled the saying about how one misunderstanding can ruin everything. Even though we wrapped up on good terms it took me awhile to get over the hurt of someone that I thought was a strong team-player assumed I meant harm to them when I certainly left a voice message indicating the urgency of a situation we were both Working on.
What the HR Representative did correctly was contact me directly to address what she perceived to be an oath on my behalf. She did not discuss it with anyone else or let it fester to the point of avoiding contact with me. By contacting me directly we were able to discuss the situation and eventually trace the original point of the misunderstanding. Due to the HR Representative's professional handling of the misunderstanding we were both able to move forward and work cohesively on future projects.
To prevent miscommunications in the workplace you can do three things:
1. Respond swiftly to requests.
2. Communicate in a clear concise manner.
3. Send professional emails with helpful subjects lines, detailed messages written in proper English and sign off with your complete contact information.
No matter where we work there will be that co-worker, boss, client that will be a spur in our side that will rub us the wrong way OR we will be that person that rubs someone else the wrong way … it is human Nature. There will be lost emails and missed calls and all sorts of mishaps that will cause misunderstandings. The molehills are everywhere, the trick is to not turn them into mountains – keep the molehills small and your journey through the work-field mines will be a lot smoother.