Kathy, a Naval Officer working as commander of personnel assignments in the Surface Warfare Office, had an important meeting at work and had already let her husband know it would need to be an “untouchable” day – where he’d need to pick up the slack with the kids, house, etc. So when he told her later that she’d need to rearrange her schedule to take the kids to school that day, she snapped, “So what meeting came up that is now more important than my board?”

He paused for a minute and then replied, “I have to go in and have some cancerous cells cut off my head.”

Feeling horrible, she backpedaled, assuring him she could change her day around. Lesson learned.“

Bottom line: I overreacted to something without listening to the whole story. A classic error in communicating – and one I need to continually work on,” explained Kathy. “My husband will be just fine, but had it been a co-worker or employee, I’m not sure it would have been as easy to ask for and receive forgiveness. My experience with my husband, though, makes me think twice before I speak without knowing the whole picture.”

In life, and particularly in the multi-generational workplace, making faulty assumptions is detrimental for everyone and ultimately for the business. At some point in your career, someone has probably said something that completely annoyed or irritated you. In fact, you may have decided that person couldn’t possibly be a positively contributing team member because of what he said or did that bothered you. As a leader or someone striving to be in a leadership position, I encourage you to consider another option.

When someone does or says something that offends you ask, “What do you mean?” In Kathy’s case, imagine the difference it would have made if she would have simply asked, “Is everything okay?”


Rock on!


Misti Burmeister