Recently I received an e-mail from a colleague, stating her frustration because she felt like her suggestions were ignored by other team members. She said she put a lot of thoughts and efforts into her suggestions, yet she felt like they all fell on deaf ears because she couldn’t explain what was in her mind well enough to a point where she could convince other team members to follow her suggestion.
I have been in her position. When I was in university, there was a time when my group’s major project got a mere 67 (a C) – which was scandalous for a group consisting of four scholarship students. We put a whole lot of work, time and effort into that project and we were convinced that the grade didn’t do justice to the work we’ve put into it. So I was tasked to meet the professor to request a second review of the report.
Now this professor was someone I knew well, and I knew that he had a high opinion of me. I was positive that I could explain the report well enough to him to a point where he would at least change the grade to a B (75 and above).
So I met the professor, explained the “hard labor” we put into the project, the various research, brainstorming and analysis we did, the sleepless nights we spent finishing the project on time, etc., etc. I was very happy with my explanation … I believed I had made it clear to him that the effort was worth more than a C.
Then he looked at me and said, calmly but firmly, “But the report does not reflect the amount of effort you’ve put into it. It’s not well-written, and based on reading the report, I am not convinced if I should buy your product.”
I was about to open my mouth and say something, but he continued,
“In this world we live in, people are judged by result – not process. I know the four of you and believe that you guys put maximum effort on it. But it doesn’t matter if you spent twice as many hours doing this project – if your report doesn’t give sound evidence and reasoning, and your message doesn’t get across easily, you lose the game.”
That one advice stayed in my head from thereafter. It’s so true that no matter how long you stay in the office, it is your ability to attract customers, retain good staff members, or your contribution to the company’s profit that count. It doesn’t matter how many hours we spend studying for an exam, we fail the test if we can’t recall those answers on the exam day. No matter how much my band practices, it is how well we play on the stage on the day that counts. It’s not the years of training that count – an athlete’s worth is only judged by its ability to win a game or reach the finish line. It doesn’t matter how long you think and justify an idea before you present it – if you don’t present it clearly enough to your audience, that idea is wasted. Even the Bible mentions that it is those who finish the race well would be rewarded – it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a dutiful pastor all your life … if you slip away and give up 200 meters before you reach the finish line, all those years of labor go to waste.
So here I am now, trying to calm my colleague down and ensure her that we can find some common grounds if we discuss it a bit further at a slower pace, because at this point of time I’m too culturally sensitive to say, “Lady, if we don’t even understand why you suggested the changes, why should we agree to it?”