Communication expert Leil Lowndes explains how to deal at work and avoid problems by keeping a daily diary.
Did you keep a diary when you were a kid? I did and, reading it years later, I laughed out loud asking myself, “Why did I ever even look at that nasty creep I was dating?” Or “How could I possibly have trusted that two-faced so-called friend who spread stories about me?” As a full-fledged adult in the working world I’m sure you suffer equally painful situations with people you work with. Maybe you’re stuck with a boss constantly criticizes you, is a control freak, micromanager, or just plain jerk. Perhaps he or she lies or blames you for things you didn’t do. And need I even mention coworkers? They can truly make your life miserable!
How to Deal at Work by Documenting
Very few situations at work come totally out of the blue. There are always early-warning signs, but we often close our eyes to them. That’s why it’s important to keep track of what transpires every day as you’re going along. Grown-ups don’t call it “keeping a diary.” They call it “documenting” and can save your tush every time.
Every day when 5 o’clock rolls around, even if you don’t think it’s anything special, write a few sentences about what happened that day. As I said, every work predicament starts somewhere and, by writing paragraph a day, you can take a trip back in the time machine to get to the bottom of it. You can analyze how it started, who’s guilty, and why it happened. Daily logging gives you invaluable insight and hindsight that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Sometimes you might even discover that you’re the culprit. But then, at least you won’t fly off the handle at innocent people. Just add it to your list of “Lessons I’ve Learned” to help you the next time. Making a mistake once is understandable. Making the same mistake twice is not!
Your daily documenting can be very short—until you smell trouble that is. At those times, spend a few more minutes on it because is worth its weight in gold. You’d be amazed at the payback you get from just a little effort. If you’re later blamed for the outcome of a situation and didn’t document the details of what transpired, you could lose, big time. Your colleagues and even your boss might try to shift the blame to you. If it comes to “he said, she said,” the boss would probably win, because top dogs at any company tend to trust those higher on the totem pole. Without dated documentation, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.
As an example, let’s take a common situation. Say your boss directed you to do something that sounds screwy to you. Slapping your forehead, you think “He’s got to be kidding!” “She’s nuts!” “No way!” “This is ridiculous!” You contemplate confronting her to ask if she cleared it with her superiors.” “No,” you think. That could come off as insubordinate, like telling your boss, “I don’t trust you.” But you must make sure you’re not held accountable. (Your contract doesn’t say you need to be the “fall guy” doing what you’re told blindly. Your boss didn’t hire you because she needed a robot. You were hired because you have the knowledge and skills that make you great at what you do.) Sure, follow your boss’s directions, but arm yourself with your “At Work Diary.” As soon as you receive the request . . .
- Document the directions precisely including what time you were told, and how she suggested you go about it.
- Include precise dates, times, and any important specific words your boss said.
- Then read it again, edit out your emotional reactions, and file the priceless document away in your computer. It could save your job someday.
Now phase two: If you’re still queasy about it, also send an email summary to your boss of what you were asked to do, but give no hint you’re disagreeing. Say it’s because you want to understand clearly so you can better perform the task. It could go like this: “Thanks for spending time with me to go over the project you assigned me today. To assure I’ve grasped the nuances of the project, here’s a summary of our discussion and the action items. Please make any corrections or, if this is right, just give me the go-ahead. I look forward to getting started.”
Now you needn’t lose any sleep over it or wonder if you should follow your boss’s screwy directions. Just document it for yourself, email your boss for confirmation, then bite the bullet and do it. It’s proof you were performing your job in good faith as instructed. Let’s hope you never need it, but, hey, if the situation later hits the fan, you won’t get splattered. So, here’s the technique:
Keep a Daily Work Diary
Memories fade and get distorted. Documents don’t. Typing a few sentences a day lets you go back and get the story straight for whatever happens at work. And, when your nose tells you something stinks, document the heck out of it! Email a copy to yourself at your home address or file it (password protected) away in forever in the cloud. Whether it’s a situation with your boss or a sticky wicket with a colleague, it all starts somewhere. So, make daily documenting a regular part of your workday.
Someday after you’ve reached the top of the totem pole and are happily retired, you can write your bestseller called Horrible Bosses and Coworkers Who Made My Life Miserable. At that time, having those stories written down will come in handy. But now, while you’re on your way up to the summit, daily documenting is critical. Many employees who neglected to do it have slipped down the pole like it was slathered with grease. Start documenting . . . tomorrow!
Leil Lowndes is the author of ten books on communication skills including the best-selling How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships. Her latest book How to Talk to Anyone at Work: 72 Little Tricks for Big Success Communicating on the Job gives dozens of specific techniques to deal with contemptible bosses and crazy colleagues.