I’ve been working with a colleague over the last couple of months on a new project that requires some pretty sophisticated graphic support. We decided to hire a graphic designer, Morgan, and she has done excellent work. She is talented, creative, guiding us when necessary, and happily taking our suggestions.
It sounds like a perfect project situation. And we are proud of the outcome. And then. You see, it appears that Morgan takes on more than she can handle sometimes, and lets things fall through the cracks. We all do that. It’s human to drop a ball in the juggling act of life.
But when you have a client meeting on the line as we did last week, and you need some help and don’t hear back for ten days, well, that feels like a lifetime. It wasn’t on purpose, we know. But when need is high and you hear nothing, you end up feeling forgotten and not important.
Even though our assumptions may not be true, the emotions behind them are hard to deny. Once we feel stuck and forgotten, it’s hard to hold a sense of trust in our colleague’s work, even when it is excellent work. Because good work is about more than technical excellence, it is about partnership, the kind that my friend Barry Oshry defines as being jointly connected and responsible for a successful outcome. And when “jointly” is broken, even technical excellence can’t mend the fence alone.
So it looks like we’re on the hunt for a new graphic designer. Too bad for everybody. So what would it take to mend fences with Morgan? A lot. She would have to at least acknowledge the perception we hold, and that our sense of partnership has been broken. I suspect that Morgan doesn’t see what’s going on, even though we’ve given her feedback.
And there’s the rub. When we work with other people (and those pesky other people keep showing up), we must always be listening and asking questions on whether we’re hitting the mark. People don’t do that a lot. I suggest you take it under advisement.
Years ago, Russ, a dear consulting friend and mentor, taught me about asking a check-in question at the end of meetings. It might range from, “Did we meet your expectations today?” to “How are we doing? What else do you need?” It’s amazing how those little phrases can change a working relationship. Had they been asked, we wouldn’t be worrying about mending fences with Morgan.
Let’s remember that perception is reality. It doesn’t matter if Morgan was taking care of sick kids and got overwhelmed by emails, as she explained to us. She created the perception of being ignored. And that became our reality. So mending fences is about rediscovering partnership and mending perceptions. What perception are you creating today?