Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The best work advice I've ever gotten

For Day 2 of Work Week, I'd like to share the best piece of work advice I've ever gotten.  I used to work at a big law firm.  When I was a first year associate, one of my assignments was calling a particular government employee to ask a question.  I called and called, but got no response.  So I emailed the team, laid out what I had done, and said that I hadn't gotten the person on the phone.  I apologized and said that I would try again the next day.  A moment after I hit, "send," I got a phone call from a fourth-year associate who was on the same case.

"Don't ever say you're sorry for something that isn't your fault," she said.  "You called the guy a bunch of times, and he didn't answer and he didn't return your calls.  You did your job, and you don't have anything to be sorry for.  If you apologize, it makes it look like you messed up, and you didn't."  She explained -- and she was right -- that especially as a woman, the tendency is to be humble and to be polite, which translates into apologizing when things don't go the way that someone else wants them to go, even if it's because of something you couldn't control.  But at work, while it doesn't hurt to be nice, it's important not to take the fall for things that aren't your fault. 

The takeaway: when you screw up, take responsibility.  People will respect you for it.  But when things don't go according to plan and it's not because you did something wrong, don't apologize.  It puts the blame on you when you don't deserve it.  It's hard at first -- the urge to apologize feels so natural -- but it's worth it in the end.

And in case you're curious, the second best piece of advice I got, but which sounds absolutely terrible: "If a partner calls you and you don't know why they're calling, don't answer.  And don't call back until you know what they want and what you're going to say."  As a first year I was aghast at how bad this sounded, but as the years went on, I learned that more often than not, it's a smart move.

I'm curious: what's the best work advice you've gotten?

Image: Mary Tyler Moore image via Pinterest, original credit unknown.


Mehg said...

Such a great topic that we were just discussing at work. Women have a different way of communicating that has many advantages but this is certainly a possible disadvantage. Good to be keep in mind but so difficult sometimes!

Tall and Salty said...

It is weirdly difficult, especially at first. When I didn't apologize, I felt like I was being mean. But over time, I got used to it, and realized that it's just being professional. Practice makes perfect.

Anonymous said...

As a nurse it's "always treat your patients as if they were your own family"

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