One of the most important lessons that I teach to my coaching clients and employees is how very important it is to be responsive. I’m aware that “be responsive” sounds trite, like one of those lofty but undefined (and therefore, meaningless) goals that organizations often promote. But when we fail at proper responsiveness, it may end up costing us our job or a promotion. We certainly don’t want that, so I’m going to give you an example of what this mysterious trait looks like in action:
Recently, a friend showed me an email that she had received from her professor. The student knew that she would be missing an important event leading up to the beginning of her student teaching program. She proactively contacted professors and administrators to make alternative arrangements and receive the information from the event in advance. She knew that this would help her keep up despite her lack of attendance.
One of her professors responded with outrage that she would not be at the event and wrote, “…if you continue to act unprofessional during your student teaching you will be asked to leave.”
She was shocked and hurt. She had thought that she had a good relationship with this professor and his response caught her off guard, but she still needed to get his support and endorsement to continue in the program. She felt discouraged and embarrassed.
A week later, I checked in with her to find out what was going on with her professor and she told me that she hadn’t responded to him yet. In that week, she talked to many other classmates and faculty about the situation and they all agreed with her and were equally shocked at the email.
But she still hadn’t addressed the issue, tried to salvage the relationship, or attempted to correct the perception of the only person whose opinion mattered. He perceived her as “unprofessional.” By not responding to him in a timely manner (it’s now 9 days!), she has reinforced that perception and helped cement it in his mind.
No one likes confrontation, myself included. Somewhere along the way, we learn that standing up for ourselves is confrontational. It’s not. We each have an obligation to ourselves to stand up for what we believe to be true and to address any misperceptions that others may have about us. This can be done in a non-confrontational, straight-forward and humble way – but it takes practice.
In this situation, I agree that she should not have responded immediately. When we feel hurt, we often lash out at the person and react from an emotional standpoint – and possibly say things that we may regret later. This can be just as damaging as waiting for 9 (or more) days. At this point, the long interval means that the professor’s perception has been justified in his own mind (and in this scenario, his opinion is the only one that matters). By the time that a response is provided, it will be all the more difficult to change his opinion.
The most important thing is to remember the objective! What does she need from this professor? She needs his support and endorsement for her to continue in the student teaching program. To do that, she needs to re-establish that she is professional, reliable, and committed.
She needed to provide a timely response here. While she may feel better that classmates and faculty were in agreement with her position, it did nothing to help her reach her objective. In fact, it may have worked against her if other faculty members shared the information with the professor.
When you are hurt, angered, or feel that a boss, manager, or teacher has inaccurate information or has misunderstood you, say something! Don’t say it in anger (or with profanity) but explain (preferably the next day) what happened, and that it bothered you.
As a manager, when one of my employees comes to me and talks to me, I am much more likely to listen to them and believe what they have to say.
But if I am left in the dark with no response, I can only assume that a) you agree with what I said or b) that you don’t care what I said. Neither option is a good choice.
If you are interested in moving ahead in your career (or educational program), don’t leave the person who can directly influence your future in the dark.
You must respond! Otherwise, your silence will be seen as acceptance. Don’t leave your future in someone else’s hands.