A close friend of mine in his late 20s is underemployed. With a master’s degree and a few years of experience, like so many people his age, he’s paying his dues and finding it challenging to traverse entry-level to mid-level. Always volunteering for every opportunity he can to meet more people in his organization and demonstrate his commitment, he participates in a young leaders committee at his office. Among other activities, they recently planned a luncheon, inviting well-known professionals to participate in a panel discussion.
A senior colleague and fellow committee member misread one of my friend’s emails which communicated when the office director would be available to join the luncheon. My friend’s colleague then sent out a mass email, on which the director was included, with the incorrect information. Just as my friend was sending a clarifying email to his senior colleague, the director responded noting her availability had been misstated.
Upon not hearing anything back from his colleague by the end of the day, my friend apologized to the director as if the mistake had been his own. “What made you decide to bring it up?” I asked him. “I don’t know,” he said, “I was caught between not wanting the director to think I’m an idiot who can’t keep simple things straight and not wanting her to think I wasn’t willing to take responsibility.”
We’ve all had this experience – a senior colleague, inundated with emails, skimmed ours resulting in a miscommunication. To address these miscommunications, we must consider the office culture, our relationship with our colleague, and the nature of the incident. We must also consider if it is even worth addressing. Misunderstandings will happen. Sometimes, by choosing to address them we draw attention to incidents that, though significant to us, barely register with others. Sometimes, getting ahead is best achieved by saying nothing at all.