We continue in our business communication learnings series. I am getting great feedback from many of my younger friends and would try and write specifically for them more often.
In this post, I am taking up “Don’t presume, ask instead.”
“I thought!” is the commonest and potentially the deadliest excuse that anyone can use to explain a task gone wrong. I would rather look stupid, but I would ask and ask again, than presume when I take a decision. Don’t confuse this with strategic risk taking kind of “I thought” but particularly when carrying out a task and specifically when it is an instruction. Also when we are not in possession of complete information.
I will share one of the most powerful learning experiences of my career – this seemingly innocent incident/mistake caused significant damage to MANY relationships.
A very senior artist was our guest of honor for an upcoming annual event- something that been the practice for the last many years. This particular year, the big boss, friends with the gentleman artist, was overseas until just a few days before the event and wasn’t able to do the necessary telephone conversation etc until quite late. The situation therefore needed even more delicate handling…’
Anyway, our guest agreed to come and it was decided that a formal invitation would be hand- delivered home. The responsibility was mine! The function was scheduled for the next day.
I supervised that the invite was carefully prepared and handed it over to my then secretary, with clear and specific instructions that it was to be hand-delivered. He heard, assured necessary action would be taken.
Next evening, Sunday, the guest didn’t arrive until event time. My boss was getting a bit anxious and so was I. He called up the guest, who said that he hadn’t received the invite. I was handed over the phone, same reply.
“Did you check at the studio, Sir, maybe it was delivered to the studio by mistake?” I asked. “No, it isn’t there either, I checked.” was the reply from the other side. No requests could convince him to change his mind. The event of course happened quite smoothly but he wasn’t there.
Next morning, a particularly disastrous one on other counts too, was time for us to diagnose the problem.
I asked my secretary if the packet had gone, he assured me that it had and rushed to get the PoD receipt – even as he rushed, he understood what had gone wrong. There wasn’t a driver available to deliver the packet and he had simply couriered the packet, thinking, it would still reach.
It would have been fine too, except he was doing so on a Saturday, for a SUNDAY event, and the packet would reach only Monday – a day too late. Ask, ask, ask.
Mistakes can happen with anyone and the boy was meticulous otherwise, enhancing my own performance many times over. I took the responsibility but it proved to be an embarrassing and a costly episode on counts of relationships it impacted.
Luckily though, my then secretary is now an MBA and doing extremely well for himself and remains family. The lesson served him well and me too. I don’t presume, I ask instead.
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