Something happened today that was cool enough to share. It happened at work, so the details will be almost nonexistent, but I think the idea will come through.
We have periodic office-wide meetings in which we talk about the various things different parts of the company are doing for our clients. They’re about being able to cross-sell and about staying engaged in the business and the office despite being so busy we can go weeks without seeing even the people in our own line of business.
Given that, it wasn’t too surprising when an email came out saying we’d be doing something at the next meeting that would require some action on our part. In order to demonstrate the efficacy of a targeted communication strategy, we would take a little survey about where we stood on an issue. The survey would sort us into groups, and we’d put our group name on a tag when we got to the meeting and sit with others in our group while we learned about the strategy.
It felt like one of those games you play at a party where no one really knows anybody else, but whatever. I know not everybody is as weird about manufactured group cohesion as I am. I took the survey.
Then I looked at the questions that were being asked. Then I looked at the category it put me in (“there are no bad categories,” said the email). Then there was this little roaring in my ears. I didn’t disagree with the category, but what it said about where I stand was no one’s business but my own. No, I thought, you can’t make me reveal that.
I knew there was another person in the office who was going to end up in the same category and was going to be just as reluctant to talk about it. I could have gone to them and commiserated. It was tempting. A steam valve would have been useful. But this person wasn’t in a position to fix this any more than I was.
Instead, I wrote back to the person who sent the email. I didn’t tell them I was upset personally. That wasn’t any of their business either. I didn’t say, “You can’t do that.” It was true, but it wasn’t specific enough to point to the outcome I wanted.
Finally, I settled on, “What are you doing to protect the privacy of those people who don’t want to reveal information on this issue to their coworkers?”
The answer came back, rather quickly, “Oh, thank you. I wasn’t thinking about that, but I see how people could be concerned. I’ll make sure everyone knows they can opt out when I send out the reminder.”
Then I talked to the other person I knew would be upset at the idea of sharing and told them the second email would be coming. This person told me how they’d gone back into the survey and lied to see what other group they might end up in–and thanked me three or four times for doing something about it. Made me pretty happy for the rest of the day.
Turns out, sometimes all you need to do is know how to ask.