jml's notebook

Call them

Here's a thing I find myself saying to myself and my colleagues a lot:

If you feel hurt or confused, or you think the other person might be hurt or confused, call them straight away.

There's a few things in this that are worth unpacking. All of this is written assuming a remote working context.

Hurt is different to confused, and both are important.

It is 100% normal for people who work together for an extended period of time to hurt each other's feelings occasionally. People are flawed, and at some point in some way someone is going to say something sucky or hurtful or thoughtless or selfish. This is never okay, it is always wrong. However, it is to be expected.

I want to repeat for emphasis that I do not think it is acceptable behaviour to hurt someone's feelings deliberately. I believe there are some emergency situations where consideration for the feelings of others is secondary, but that these situations are rare, limited in scope, and that 'secondary' doesn't mean 'irrelevant'.

Feelings are always going to get hurt. The question is, what do you do when it happens? I believe the best answers involve repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The bare minimum though, is to talk. More on that in a bit.

In the above, confused is not a synonym for hurt. You are confused when you don't understand what the other person is saying, or all possible interpretations of what they are saying are outlandish, and cause you to question their competence or their sanity. You are confused when you aren't quite sure what you are arguing about, or when you don't understand how anyone could possibly disagree with you. This often leads to hurt, but it's not the same thing.

If you feel either hurt or confused, or you think the other person might be hurt or confused, call them.

I mean pick up the telephone, or start a Zoom call. You don't need video, but you do need audio, and you need it to be synchronous. DMs won't cut it, text won't cut it, you need to hear each other's voices.

I love text and asynchronous communication. In general, I think they are better for getting things done. However, they seem to be lousy tools for resolving confusion or healing hurts.

You need to call them straight away, as soon as you realise this is A Thing. If you wait until the next day, that makes it a bigger deal, which makes it harder for you. If you wait until you see them next--well, you don't know when that will be, and in the meantime the relationship becomes more difficult and whatever it was that you were talking about remains unresolved.

Not many people like this advice. Perhaps we've all developed an aversion to calls? Perhaps it feels like giving up? Perhaps it seems awkward and embarrassing?

I have followed this advice a few times now, and each time I experience a moment of fear, like I am taking some risk and might get rejected.

However, each time I've done it, the other person has been understanding and kind. Sometimes it's been over big deals, sometimes over small deals. Most of the time, it's been over things that felt big but turned out to be small when talking to a person.

Talking with your voice to another human being in real time is the best way to begin to bring clarity to confusion or healing to hurt. Text just digs you deeper.