I exchanged messages recently with someone I had not communicated with for a few years. Between the last time we talked and the recent message, I had started working at my current job. The person I was talking to asked how my job was going.
“I had a whole other career prior to this, so I appreciate what I have,” is what I wrote.
I read a question today in a micro-interview of Josh Spector, founder of For The Interested (check out his newsletter here). Here’s the question:
“What do you know about your work now that you wish you’d known when you first started?”
After discussing my gratitude for my current job, I finished off the message with, “I appreciate the opportunities I have every day to learn something new.” It’s true.
One thing I have learned to do a little bit better than when I started editing full-time after a career in health policy (followed by a few years of caregiving) is the art of asking questions.
Asking questions the wrong way (or with the wrong timing) can a) waste people’s time (including mine) and b) harm relationships.
At first, I didn’t take a moment to think first, ask second. Sometimes, the question I have is right, but there are other editorial options that will eliminate the need to ask.
I once got into an interaction with a colleague over a piece of content we both had a hand in editing. The discussion was about whether to use the term “student with autism” or “autistic student.” The colleague had strong opinions for very good reasons. I did too.
I started a discussion about the sentences we had a shared responsibility for.
Essentially, the response was a mini-lecture that implied I didn’t have sufficient background or knowledge to weigh in. This was a problem because I have been involved in autism advocacy for a very long time and would never in a million years intentionally choose language that minimized anyone in the autism community. (Note: Here’s one important piece of writing on the topic of language around autism.)
There’s a certain kind of demoralization that happens when you’re working remote and have a conversation over Slack that doesn’t end well. It’s one thing to have a tense email conversation with someone who is down the hall from you, someone you’ll probably bump into at the coffee machine or a meeting later that week. It’s another to do so with someone you have never met face-to-face, who you may never meet face-to-face. I hate it, and if I can learn to calibrate the content and timing of my questions better, my mental health and I are here for it!
I could have, if I had taken a moment to think it through first, revised the sentence in a way that made it still work while eliminating the need for the question through creative and intelligent use of grammar.
I asked first and thought later. The reverse would have definitely saved both of us time and avoided an interaction that led to more questions than it answered.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
You are so insightful. I have heard of asking the right question, but never considered timing to be a factor. I can also see how working 100% remote vs working down the hall could make a big difference, especially until the team gets to know each other.
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
Thank you, Jane. I’d love to have a longer conversation with you about this, since we know a little bit about the past few years of my work history. For now, I’ll just say — we have to keep learning about how to work best with each other. It’s a process!
Carol Cassara says
I appreciated this wise post.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Carol!
My son works from home, like so many do now. Even before he had to do that he was often nervous about interchanges with his boss. I actually think he feels more secure now. Maybe it’s that time has passed. Maybe it’s that often it’s just the voice, he doesn’t have to interpret the look. It’s been a long time for me, but I was often sensitive during interchanges. It’s so human.
Paula Kiger says
Yes – it’s all very complex! I have a great relationship with my boss. Once nice outcome of the last year is that we do more video calls now (whereas we did phone calls prior). I really like being able to “look each other in the eye” (not sure it makes a difference for him — I can just say how it feels for me). I added that paragraph about the powerlessness of feeling angry/unresolved at the desk fairly late in writing this, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that is perhaps the biggest thing I needed to get it through writing.
Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski says
One of the reasons I love blogging is that I can make my own mistakes without any input from others. I often go back and fix things and then wonder why I made the mistake in the first place. I’m my own best critic, I guess.
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
I hear you! I don’t know if I’m my own BEST critic, but I’m my own harshest critic for sure. If I really scrutinized some of those 10-year-old posts of mine, I think I’d be horrified! I may just let them rest. 🙂