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I’ve been pretty quiet here about some of the things that have been going on lately regarding what I’ll term diversity issues. I don’t think I need to mention the names of any cities or any individuals or any of the particular actions for anyone to know what’s been going on.

Stop Police Brutality, No Justice No Peace
Thomas Hawk via Compfight

I have given my opinion and shared thoughts and information on other platforms, including one of my YouTube channels. Self expression during troubled times is a right of all of us and I’ve had some feelings I’ve needed to express. It’s that part of the diversity issue I want to address today because it’s relevant to business and leaders who might not know how to handle things with some employees right now.

The first thing to get out of the way is that when events like this occur, and it seems to involve race, religion, or any other thing that categorizes us, it’s not really an issue just for those groups of folks… it’s a “people” issue, which means it’s everyone’s issue. You can try to dodge the issue thinking it has nothing to do with you, or you might feel it’s only your issue and no one else can understand, and you might be right… but it’s not fully correct.

The thing with an issue like this is how people in general sometimes act when they assume positions of power, and how other people react when they have to view people in positions of power. Whereas the recent events all seem to point at one thing over another, truth be told this isn’t anything that hasn’t happened in the past, and it’s not anything that hasn’t happened to other groups of people.

All we have to do is look back at our history, and not even all that far back. The 60’s were replete with lots of civil action against authority, trying to get rights for people who’d been subjugated in some fashion. There were civil rights protests, protests against the war in Vietnam, protests against police brutality in Chicago and other cities… over and over these things happened. And it wasn’t just black people who were victims of the police; people of all religions and all racial backgrounds were beaten and arrested and killed.

This isn’t a condemnation of the police either. I acknowledge that they have a tough job to do overall. “Protect and serve” means that when people are in trouble, being robbed, being hurt or having to figure out what kind of action to take against someone who might be looking to make a larger statement of some kind, that we look towards law enforcement to come up with the solutions because they have the training and the background to take on the challenge; it’s their job.

What it is instead if a way of relating the problem with police to the problems of many leaders overall, that being the lack of proper training.

One of my laments about health care leadership is that most of the people who are promoted into positions of leadership often don’t have any real leadership training but lots of technical training. Having the ability to know the ins and outs of medical issues doesn’t immediately qualify someone for leadership.

The same goes for law enforcement and, indirectly, the military. Sure, those at the top get some leadership training many times, but leadership isn’t a trickle down process that someone take in by osmosis.

Without as much training in leadership and people skills as there is with skills with firearms or physical take downs we get people who are trained to kill without learning how to process situations like true leaders do so they can make proper decisions.

MLK - peace rally - gainesville, florida - corner of university and 13th
Therese Flanagan via Compfight

I know someone’s probably thinking “front line soldiers and police officers aren’t real leaders”; oh really? When there’s a situation and a cop arrives on the scene who’s leading at that moment? When a soldier kicks in a door and points a rifle at someone or many people who’s in the leadership at that time? In those types of situations wouldn’t it help if someone had some leadership training that could help them make proper decisions instead of rash decisions?

The problem with most of the situations we’ve seen lately is that none of these situations were critical when the incidents occurred. In only one incident has an officer said he felt like he was in danger, yet early on that particular officer, who, it turns out, had limited experience and, if protocol had been followed, shouldn’t have been out on call by himself, had no fear and wasn’t under any threat. If there’s no real threat doesn’t that mean evaluation skills were lacking? Isn’t that a byproduct of teaching someone leadership skills?

That all the recent victims have been of one race has led to protests and riots across the country has been distressing, and it’s easy to get caught up in that. But since it’s something that keeps happening, and has happened for multiple decades now, and has involved people of all ages and all backgrounds, isn’t it time to look for real solutions to try to stop these things? When all is said and done, isn’t all of this a leadership problem?

As a disclaimer I’ll admit that I had to work through some anger to come to this conclusion. I don’t want to hate the police; I don’t want to fear the police or mistrust the police. Instead of just castigating someone and ranting and raving on a continuous basis I thought it was time to discuss issues critically.

I recognize that something that’s this embedded and has been for so long requires first a potential answer, then a potential solution, and finally a potential process to push things towards more positive results.

I’ve started the first part. It’s hard to have a real dialogue unless people are ready for it. It’s hard to have a productive dialogue unless there are some people in the room with leadership skills, whether they’re in the lead position or not. It’s hard to affect change without leaders leading the way.

So it’s not simple, but I think it’s workable. Anyone agree?

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Almost everyone has heard the term “tough love”. It seems to mean different things to different people, and until you’ve gone through something where you have to perform it on someone, you never really get it right.

Bright Eyes
Creative Commons License Jose Roberto V Moraes
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Recently I’ve had to dole out a little bit of tough love. I’m not going into the details, but suffice is to say that I had to do a lot of soul searching and have some pretty serious conversations with my wife before I realized what had to be done. I think all the time I knew I had to take a stand, not only for my own mental comfort but, in my own way, to try to help the person who needed it.

Frankly, as I thought about it, tough love comes about because someone isn’t responding to the normal interactions you either used to have or should be having with someone. If they don’t listen to any advice you give them when they ask for it, or they’re asking you to do something they know you couldn’t possibly be comfortable with, or you realize that you can’t trust them alone in your house or even with you in the house or business, you have to take action of some kind; that’s what tough love is.

A lot of people have had to dole out tough love in their personal lives. This is my first time ever having to deal with it but my wife has dealt with it multiple times. Thus, she was a perfect person to talk to, and her advice helped me solidify my mindset. I have to tell you that it was as tough on me as it was on the person I had to administer it to, although that person would probably never see it that way. In the end though, it had to be done.

So, what about business tough love? Exactly what kind of incident, or behavior, would have to occur before one decided it was time to administer a bit of tough love?

Truthfully, I don’t think there’s any such thing as tough love in business, although I’m sure I’ll have some people disagree with me. What I think some people might be interpreting as tough love in business is actually a lack of true leadership skills.

In essence, a person who has to administer what they consider as tough love in business probably hasn’t been doing the things they should have been doing, and are unwilling to fully do what they need to do. They probably haven’t been monitoring an employee well over the course of time. They probably haven’t been giving performance appraisals more often than once a year. They have probably seen a change in behavior, know what’s behind it, but haven’t attempted to address it in any way and let things get so bad that they’re now forced to take action.

Felipe Morin via Compfight

What makes me say this? Because at least twice in my life as a director I took it upon myself to talk to someone I noticed had changed and knew they were going through something. Both times I addressed it within two weeks, feeling I had to give the person at least a little bit of time to come to grips with what was going on.

At the point where I knew I had to do something I did. I knew the person needed to be spoken to because I monitored everyone, and I talked to employees regularly. I paid attention because I didn’t want anything going on in a person’s personal life to alter the mood of everyone else in a negative way; our department, our business, just couldn’t work properly.

So I spoke to each person, told them what I saw, talked a bit about their issue (I never brought that part up but they wanted to talk) and, in my own way, helped each employee figure out the way to go to help them resolve their issue.

The thing is, I don’t consider any of that tough love; I didn’t then and I don’t now. Even though I cared, I didn’t have a personal stake in any of it. I did what I did because it was expected of me. I had a job to do that I was being paid for and I did it. After all, that’s what true leaders are supposed to do. I was kind though, and I cared how I spoke to them because I knew each person was hurting, and I knew why.

In my opinion (it’s important to stress it that way), there should never be any sort of tough love when it comes to employees. If you have to help them or let them go, that’s your job. You may be doing it to help them but in the long run you’re doing it to protect the interest of your department and your company.

That’s a far cry from doing to try to help someone you love.

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I have a personal tale to tell, a tale about leadership. That pretty much figures right?

There are a lot of people who know that I was a military kid. There are a few people who know that I lived in Kansas City, Missouri for one year as a kid. There are fewer people who know that the year I lived in Kansas City, I lived in the ghetto, thus I went to a school that was in the ghetto.

my great grandmother

Living life in the ghetto is hard enough, but when it’s something you didn’t grow up with it can seem even harder. That’s because you don’t have a shared experience with any of the people you encounter, thus you stand out more.

I was an outcast from the very first day. My dad had already left for Vietnam, so my mother took me to school that day. It was an old style brick building that was surrounded by a very high fence that was locked most of the day with an old guard watching, in case parents or police had to come in, to keep kids from leaving, with no grass to speak of; looked more like what some of today’s prisons reminds you of (it’s gone now).

It was easy to see that I was going to be much different than all the other kids. I was 10 years old, and at that time my mother still picked out my clothes, ironed everything, and brushed my hair, with a little part in it, using whatever the type of grease was that with available back then.

In other words, I looked pretty good. However, the overwhelming majority of the kids did not. Most of the kids would wear the same thing almost every day, with those things rarely being washed. Some kids got to change clothes daily, but they would be wrinkled and sometimes be a little shabby, as if they were hand-me-downs.

The teacher, Ms. Johnson, used to spend the first 60 to 90 minutes every morning taking different kids into the bathroom, since each classroom has its own bathroom, and washing them up and doing their hair. You would hear kids screaming from being cleaned; I thought that was very strange at the time.

After about a week, I was moved out of the classroom and into either the school’s administration area or the library. It was obvious that I was grades ahead of everybody else, even though we were all the same age. This was supposed to be fifth grade, but they were still reading Dick and Jane books and learning addition and I was way beyond that.

However, that’s not the only reason I was moved. Just like in today’s world, whenever there’s a kid that’s different in some way there are a lot of other kids who resent it. Even though it wasn’t my fault, you can imagine seeing someone coming in wearing the kind of clothes I did every day, which weren’t expensive because we were a military family after all, but looking expensive when compared to what everyone else was wearing. I had enemies, lots of enemies, and school was a dangerous place to be.

So I was spending a lot of time alone, but even though I was pretty much by myself almost every day in school, it turns out I was in danger. There were a lot of kids who were plotting to find ways to get me alone so that they could beat me up. Some of that I knew about, but a lot of it I didn’t.

The lucky thing for me was that not every kid immediately hated me. I had a couple of protectors, even though I never asked for it, and I had a couple of people who were friendly to me. One kid who lived around the corner from where I lived, named Odell, stopped by the house one day after school to give me some information about what was going on.

My great-grandmother happened to be visiting that week, and in front of her, my grandmother and my mom he talked about this potential group of anywhere from 15 to 20 kids who were going to try to find a way to trap me away from all the adults to teach me a lesson. I heard that part and I was scared, but my great-grandmother told me not to worry about it and to go off and play with Odell.

The next part of this story was told to me by my mother. After we had left, my great grandmother stood up, looked at my mother and said “Betty, there is no way that we’re going to allow anything to happen to my great grandson. We’re going to go up to that school tomorrow and we’re gonna get this whole thing taken care of.”

So, unbeknownst to me, the next day my great-grandmother and my mother went to the school and had a conversation with the principal and the vice principal. I guess my great-grandmother did most of the talking, and she told them that it was their responsibility to make sure that I was being taken care of, that my dad was off fighting a war to help protect this country and that the last thing he needed was to worry about his son in school.

After this conversation, something very interesting happened. I must’ve blocked it from my conscious, because I’m thinking it had to be one of the most bizarre and embarrassing things that could ever happen to a kid, and could’ve turned out really bad. I didn’t even remember this part until my mother told me on Thanksgiving.

The principal called an assembly for all the kids in grades four through six. When everyone was in the room, she had me come out on stage with her. Since I wasn’t in the classrooms anymore, she had sent someone to get me out of the library and have me come to the gym, which is where they held assembly.

She then proceeded to tell those kids about me, and about my dad overseas fighting the war, and that just because I came from a different background and that bothered some of them did not give any of them the right to hate me. She also told them that if any harm came to me whatsoever that there would be a lot of them would be expelled from school, even if they had nothing to do with it, because she had a list of troublemakers who she was going to suspect were in on it.

As I said, that could have gone really bad in the long run. Instead, I ended up with a few more kids who were on my side which made things a little bit safer for me. I still couldn’t go to a classroom because there was nothing anyone could teach me, but I was allowed to move a little freer around school and we even did some things that year that the school had never participated in before, such as a field trip and an entry in the city’s science fair.

I tell this story for a particular reason. Every once in a while, true leadership means deciding to take a stand for the right reason even when the odds seem to be against you. My mother was missing my dad and was worried about me to the point that she couldn’t figure out what to do, thus did nothing. The principal of the school had done what she thought was proper because of the circumstances, but really hadn’t followed through to make sure I was safe.

But my great grandmother, the only person I have ever known in person who was left on someone’s doorstep in a basket as a baby, who never went beyond third grade yet was able to raise 13 children, and was barely 5 foot tall, took the reins and lead the charge with unwavering righteous rage to make sure that both my mother and that school protected me and brought to attention just how vulnerable students could be.

In a way, it wasn’t only about me because, even though I didn’t remember the assembly until a few days ago, I do remember that there were a lot more adults walking around to see what students were doing before they could do anything to anybody else. After all, even without me was a pretty violent school.

True leaders don’t wait until a crisis happens to take a stand for what’s right. True, sometimes the consequences may not be what’s expected, but you have to be willing to speak out or take action for those who can’t do it for themselves. And if you can exhort others to take positive action, even better.

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In my last post, where I talked about measuring competence, I shared a brief tale about trying to get a kerosene heater to work. I read the instructions again, watched a video on YouTube… nothing. After talking to my wife she said I should take it back and try another one. Though I hate doing that, I knew she was right so I went back to the store.

complaint department - please take a number (grenade)
Rev. Xanatos Satanicos
Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

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I went to the returns desk, said I did everything I could but it wouldn’t work and that I wanted an exchange. Instead of just putting it through he called over a guy who supposedly knows something about the heaters and asked him what might be wrong. The guy asked me if I had tried lighting it with a match and I said no, I wasn’t putting my hand inside something I didn’t understand.

Then he told me that the electric igniters on kerosene heaters rarely worked. I said “Why would _________ (name of store) sell something that they knew didn’t work? He looked at me for a moment, then turned around and walked back to the department to get me another heater. I looked at the returns guy, who was suddenly looking down and away and I said “That was kind of interesting, huh?” He said “Yup”.

Can you imagine your employees telling people that what your business does is messed up? Actually I’m sure you can because every place I’ve been, whether I was an employee or a consultant, invariably has someone who doesn’t like something, sometimes many things, about the company they work for, and they can’t wait to tell as many people as possible about it.

The thing is it’s bad enough when it’s at work, but what about when it’s not at work, or at least not only in front of co-workers? I hear people all the time talking about the sneaky things other employees do to cheat customers or products they sell that the owners know aren’t going to work properly. I also know that’s not always true, that it’s just the perception of the employee.

Whose fault is this? Obviously it’s the employer’s fault, even though we want to blame the employee. Actually, the employee isn’t without blame, but overall fault lies in leadership for more than one reason:

* leadership hasn’t spent time on educating its employees on customer service

* leadership hasn’t spent any time making sure that employees are treating customers properly

* leadership hasn’t spent enough time teaching employees about the products and how they should work

* leadership hasn’t paid any attention to complaints from either employees or customers

* leadership hasn’t fully evaluated their products or processes to make sure they do what they’re supposed to do

I get it; no one likes hearing complaints. Yet, sometimes they come, and let’s face the fact that customers and employees aren’t always wrong. Instead of having a kneejerk reaction and wanting to go after the employee, or dismissing customers are being ignorant and troublesome, maybe some time needs to be spent looking at processes and/or products. They just might be right after all; I mean, how many of you have seen the show Undercover Boss and seen how many of these leaders discover things going wrong in their companies that are their fault?

No matter how good you think your company and your product or services are, if your customer services processes aren’t up to snuff, and if you don’t take into serious consideration what your employees or customers are saying, you could end up with no business as consumers go elsewhere for things you offer.

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In a 5-hour period the other day I put together two things.

The first was a kerosene heater. It was more complicated than I expected it to be. Once you put it together you’re supposed to take it outside, fill it up, let it sit for an hour for the wick to get nice and moistened, then turn this knob until it elevates the wick to its highest level, push this button to ignite it, and it lights and starts warming things up.

The heater

Problem is it didn’t work. Nothing’s happening, even after I changed the batteries on the starter. Truthfully, I’m assuming I’ve put enough kerosene in it, have no idea what the wick is supposed to look like, and I’m not really sure what the outcome is supposed to look like, other than there’s supposed to be a fire somewhere. Quite disgruntled…

The second was a brand new chair, because the arm snapped off my other chair. It was much bigger and heavier, took longer to put together, but in a strange way it was much easier to handle. There were no words in the instructions, only pictures, and everything single thing was laid out perfectly. I now have a wonderful new chair with a lumbar support my back is happy about. You should see the smile on my face.

Truthfully, going into each project, I had a vastly different level of confidence. On the one hand, I’d never put together a kerosene heater, hadn’t even seen one in 11 years, and the last one we had that worked my wife had put together years before we met so she knew all about it. As far as the chair is concerned, I’ve put together lots of chairs over the years, as well as cabinets and other furniture, thus I knew that no matter what I’d be able to put the chair together without any problems whatsoever.

Sometimes we have to figure out ways of figuring out our own levels of competence. I know mine pretty well, although sometimes it’s depressing. I had a feeling the kerosene heater might not work, but since my wife is out of town I had to give it a shot. I knew the chair would come together perfectly because I have that level of competence; if I know what something is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to work then I’m good.

my chair
My chair

If it’s hard for some people to figure out their own levels of competence, it’s no wonder so many leaders fail to figure out the levels of competence for those who report to them. Here and there I’ve asked leaders why they assigned certain work to an employee and rarely has the answer been definitive as to their level of skills. Instead, I usually have gotten “I thought they could handle it.” That always leads to the next question, which is “Why did you think that?” The reply most often given: “I don’t know.”

There are times when you can get away with allowing someone to try something without knowing if they’re up to the task. However, it should never be the norm because what it does is sets both the leader and the employee up for potential problems and loss of confidence. If the employee really doesn’t know how to do something they’re not going to feel well, and if the leader recognizes later on the person wasn’t capable they’re probably not going to trust them again, which pretty much means that person’s growth will stagnate.

This just won’t do. Instead of floundering, here are 3 ideas you might want to try the next time you’re thinking about giving someone a responsibility you’re not sure they’re ready for:

1. Not only explain what you want someone to do but tell them what your expected deliverables are. In other words, if you want a graph, a report, a completed project or the results of something, let them know this so they have some kind of idea of what you want.

2. Give them some kind of idea how to do it. Hopefully you’ll know how they can proceed on your request, and if so, you should give them help towards your ultimate goal. Make sure you not only tell them how to do it but have them parrot it back to you and ask if there are any steps they’re unsure of. If you’ve fostered an environment where employees aren’t afraid to show you what they don’t know this will work great.

3. If it’s a project that could take longer than two hours, check on the person just before halfway of when the project is due to see how things are going. Don’t just ask how it’s going, ask some specific things to see if it’s progressing the way you need it to.

Competent people don’t wait until the last minute to do a project. They always want to have something in case a leader stops by to check on them. If you don’t see what you need, either your instructions weren’t clear or the person doesn’t understand what to do. Either way, it’s better to know sooner than later.

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I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about some of the crazy things some people do.

Dru! via Compfight

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of things I don’t take chances on because, well, life is tough enough. Sure, there are people who get on rollercoasters and that might be a bit too extreme for me; if I can’t control it, I’m probably not doing it.

But there are some people who do some truly extreme things. There are people who climb mountains and will hang in the air while using grapples. There are people who climb these mountains only to jump off them without a parachute, trying to hang glide. There are people who will get into the water with deadly animals just to take their pictures. There is a video of a guy who climbed into an active volcano just to see if he could do it.

Wow, not me! I’ve never been able to understand people who take these kinds of chances with their life. I understand it’s their right to do it, but I have to admit that when I see or hear of these things, such as another Wallenda deciding to walk across a high open space without a net underneath, I get nervous, even if it’s already completed and all I’m doing is seeing it on a video.

When my friend and I parted, while I was driving back home, a question jumped into my mind: could I ever trust anyone who did things like that?

I have to admit that I don’t trust easily. I’ve seen too many things and heard of way more things that leads me to be skeptical with people where it concerns me. I never trusted employees to do the right thing until I educated them on how to do those things, and then monitored them to see how well they did, how well they listened, and how capable they were to learn more. Even then, it would take a lot more stages for us to go through before I trusted them more than when I met them.

Mother and Infant Bond
Steve Corey via Compfight

To me, trust is given to people who I believe would never do anything to harm me. At the same time, trust is given to people who seem to show that they care about themselves enough to never put me into a position to not trust them or their judgment.

Herein lies my issue. People who take chances with their lives scare me to no end. If I had to work with one of those folks I probably wouldn’t work with them for long except in a consulting capacity, where, by definition, I’m given the right to be somewhat removed.

For me, it’s not just extreme behavior like what I mentioned above that would trouble me.

Micro managers trouble me because it’s an extreme manner of leadership, a horrible one because no matter how much training I might get or what I might prove to be capable of a micro manager is never going to allow me to thrive.

Managers who show me they don’t care because they don’t know what I do trouble me because if they don’t care about the work I do, then they really don’t care about the work they do or about me and my options for improvement, and once again I’m not going to have the opportunity to thrive.

Managers who had problems with substance abuse, who use a lot of profanity, who fly off the handle at the flip of a switch… I don’t trust any of them. Managers who don’t do their job, who claim credit for the work of others, who gossip about people who work with and for them… they might as well be the people who jump into holes just to see what’s in them.

I believe trust has to be earned, but I also believe there are times when someone with extreme behavior, no matter what else they may or may not do, are going to be horrible leaders. It’s possible I might not be fair in my assumption, but history has shown me that there’s a pattern, a track record if you will, where my beliefs are correct at least 90% of the time, and I think I’m being generous with that number.

Still, it begs the question I started with; how easily do you trust people and what does it take for you to decide to trust them, whether you work for them or they work for you? If you don’t trust all that easily like myself, what would it take for you to start trusting others?

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I’ve got a story for you.

Many years ago I was on a consulting assignment that had been going really well. I was having a lot of fun and a lot of success; we were all getting things done in a miraculous and positive way.

Math on the Wall
alist via Compfight

One day a new CFO showed up and decided he wanted to change things up. He stated that before I could make any changes to anything he needed to review everything first. Knowing how busy CFOs are, and questioning his knowledge about what I did internally, I suddenly worried that things were going to get backlogged and that it would destroy the continuity that had already been established before he got there.

So when the first critical item came up, I decided to follow the request and send it to him for his review. I also decided to give him all the information I thought he’d need so he could make an informed decision. By the time I was done I had attached 15 pages to the item and sent it to him in an interoffice envelope; this was before one could scan things and send them out as pdf’s.

Later in the day the project manager came to me. He said that the CFO called him up and asked what all the information was. The PM told him I was just following his new directive for wanting to approve all changes. He said that was too much information and that what he really wanted to know was the financial category I was going to put things in, not what things were.

In the long run things still got bogged down because, as I expected, his time was pulled in other directions. In that regard I was totally correct. In the other… the question is should I have given him all that information when I knew it was going to confuse him?

First, let me state that not every situation ends up getting the same activity. I was trying to make a point when I did what I did, and though it was taken, the CFO wasn’t the type who was going to change his overall direction; micro managers never do.

Second, I have always tended to believe that any time we underestimate the intelligence of someone else we’re setting the clock in motion for something bad to come our way. It might not be catastrophic but it will be irritating enough to cause things not to work all that well.

I was consulting somewhere and was suddenly included in a rash of emails regarding some procedures. It happened to be something I knew well, and as I looked at previous messages I realized someone was about to make a critical mistake.

I decided that since I’d been included in the discussion to say something; as a matter of fact, that was almost my opening line word for word. I mentioned the process, gave some history on how it all came to be nationally, told them why they couldn’t proceed the way they wanted to, and added that, since I was incorporated as a business and was indirectly listed with the organization whose rules they were about to break that if anything bad happened and the authorities came a-calling that I’d have to mention how I’d told them not to do it. I added that part because once I was in the discussion it would always be a possibility that they might try to say they were doing it on my recommendation; that wasn’t happening.

What happened next was somewhat surprising. The next email came from a project manager with a lot of juice in the organization. She thanked me for all the information I gave them, said they certainly weren’t going to do it after I gave it to them, and thanked me for clarifying the whole issue. Suddenly I was the go-to guy, which I found interesting because before that it seemed like no one cared much that I was there, even though they were paying me. :-)

The thing is, even if the information I gave them might have been over their head, they knew I understood the issue; in this case I wrote it so that the people who needed to understand it would do so. That’s the thing about giving people all the information they need; it does no good if they can’t interpret it because you’ve used words or terms they don’t know.

This takes us back to the original question: Will they understand? Maybe, maybe not. I always err on the side that says they will, and, for the most part, I try to help them in as easy a way as possible.

You should too.

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