I recently avoided a mistake I’ve made plenty of times in the past. The mistake I could easily have made was in how I reacted to an internal screwup. I attribute my better reaction to an experience I’d had a few hours before learning of the mistake we made.
Our marketing manager came up to me, a little upset, and told me we’d had an article published on one of our projects that inaccurately reported the membership of the team, excluding not only all of the designers, but both women who’d worked on the project. She’d heard from one of the designers who was justifiably irritated. Our marketing manager admitted she’d been busy, had handed the reporter off to a developer on the project, then moved on to other stuff she was trying to finish.
Educating the Grand Rapids market on our design abilities is something we’ve been working on for a while. Our reputation for development skills is well-known; our internal design prowess less so. We’ve also been working hard for many years to improve the gender balance of the company. We lost an opportunity to counter the old image of AO as a group of wicked smart developer dudes.
So that was the stimulus. The interesting thing to me is the reaction that I didn’t have. I didn’t:
- Get angry with our marketing manager for having missed a golden opportunity.
- I didn’t accept her hypothesis that this may be a cultural problem.
- I didn’t call the developer with a WTF? attitude.
- I didn’t tell myself the story that I can’t trust the people I work with.
- I didn’t assume I knew the whole story.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have reacted this way in similar situations in the past: stimulus, bad response.
What I did instead was:
- Recognized that my marketing manager was upset with herself, and was speaking from a sense of mild guilt and defensiveness.
- Offered empathy for dropping balls when you have too much going on.
- Kindly but confidently rejected the notion that we may have a cultural problem with developers not considering designers as first-class members of teams, or of men minimizing the contributions of women.
- Pointed out this isn’t our last opportunity, and that we should focus on how we can do better in the future.
- Emailed a senior developer on the project and enlisted his help in tackling the hurt feelings directly so they didn’t fester.
Comparing and contrasting the two different reactions makes me squirm as I write them down. It’s so clear how much better one is than the other. Why would I ever react to such a situation so poorly? Could be I’m not a good person, or I have zero emotional intelligence, or I have a character flaw whereby I assume the worst and react angrily by default. Or maybe I just have a stressful, busy job, and like every human I’m programmed with a pretty strong fight/flight instinct. Whatever the root cause, the thing that fascinates me is what happened a couple of hours before this interaction.
Just a few hours before this interaction I attended an introduction to mindfulness. Allen Weiss, the CEO of the company organizing the marketing conference we were attending, also teaches and studies mindfulness. Coincidentally, I was primed to learn more about this subject by my friend Elissa, and her compelling description of mindfulness. Ironically, I only attended because my marketing manager had registered herself, wanted more sleep, and suggested I take her place.
The one hour introduction included three, short, guided meditations, as well as Allen’s description of his own practice and what mindfulness is all about. I felt pleasantly relaxed, calm, and centered coming out of it.
Here’s how Psychology Today defines mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
I’m certain that a one hour overview isn’t enough to fully understand or master the practice of mindfulness. Allen describes his own mastery in terms of months and years. What excites me is the possibility that my inadvertent experiment points to. Correlation isn’t causation, but it sure seems to me like my brush with mindfulness had a positive impact on how I handled a situation that I might have made worse in the past, and need to deal with regularly.
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