The Opinionated Manager

learning to trust my own opinions and expertise

Common Sense

Which-Way-Up

Some time ago, as a slightly less experienced manager, I made a mistake that has stayed with me and still makes me cringe.  It was a complete Management-101 fail, or really, to be honest, a complete common sense fail.

Let’s workshop.

An employee says to you “Can I go to a medical appointment on Friday morning.  I won’t be very late because it is only in <Location> and my husband is coming with me and will drop me back”.

OMG! This isn’t even worth doing a multiple choice answer, because it is so clear.  You NEVER inquire as to an employee’s private medical business.  Maybe if you have a good relationship you could ask a generic “Everything OK” question.  BUT THAT IS IT.  No more.  Not your business.  Walk away.

Here’s what I actually did.  I got excited.  Because in my half-formed brain, the location of the appointment, and the accompaniment of the husband meant only one thing: Babies.  So, if I was thinking clearly, these pointers would have actually led me to “stay away” territory, because unless the employee has mentioned that she is pregnant, it is (and now I will do the multiple choice):

a. Very Early Stages
b. IVF
c. Fertility problems
d. something else totally not my business

I went for option: Unlisted. I said to her “Ohhhhh!  Babies!”

You can probably guess what happened next. Tears. Disclosure of her personal situation.

And then, maybe worst of all, Apologies for crying and being a mess.

Shit.  Double Shit.  F-word.  Cue: My apology.  For invading her privacy.  For being a complete clot of a human being.  For her situation.

In the end, I was lucky.  The staff member is a lovely person, and my reputation as a caring manager is marginally stronger than my reputation as an insensitive idiot, so no irreparable harm done.  It was only mentioned again once, at the staff member’s instigation.

And I learned my lesson that I will never never not ever do that again.

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6 comments on “Common Sense

  1. aparentinglife
    August 26, 2013

    Oh gosh what a terrible place to be in. I would have done exactly the same as well. Foot meet mouth.

    • Katyberry
      August 26, 2013

      It was just so so stupid! I felt horrible – no doubt so did she!
      Happy ending though – that beautiful team member is now well pregnant, due at the end of the year!

  2. Tegan Churchill
    August 26, 2013

    Some days my foot spends more time in my mouth than it does anywhere else!

  3. Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    August 26, 2013

    Sometimes those moments happen to the best of us. That’s one of things I hate as a manager, toeing that delicate line between having to ask certain questions because you need to know from a performance point of view while not invading their privacy. So glad the story had a happy ending on all counts!

  4. Lani
    August 27, 2013

    I have congratulated women on being pregnant when they weren’t! Oh dear. Basically saying, “gosh, you’re looking fat today!”

  5. coloursofsunset
    September 1, 2013

    Oops! Yes, we all say silly and inappropriate things at times. Don’t beat yourself up, it might have been a weight off her chest to share it with you! I know personally how hard it is keeping a fertility problem secret when you need time off for appointments and things. x

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This entry was posted on May 12, 2013 by in Leadership & Management and tagged , , , , .

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