Last night, one of my employees quit. It was Sunday. She sent an e-mail. AN E-MAIL. At 8pm. The kicker is that she was a friend and is married to my cousin.
The quitting process started Friday evening, when she sent me an e-mail at 5pm about her view on her position in the office, and it was pretty negative. I finish work at 3:30pm on Friday and consider my weekends a work-free zone, but apparently I had not made that clear enough (I have an issue with establishing boundaries).
I thought it was best to call her back and discuss, because I don’t believe that work discussions of this nature should be conducted via e-mail, and it was not a great discussion. Apparently, I am the sole cause of the issues she’s having and there is no sense from her that she has any part in how she’s doing.
She definitely got personal with her comments, so it was a difficult conversation. I really tried to keep my cool, owned the behaviours that were causing her distress, and laid out what I saw as the issues. A lot of the issues were caused by the fact that I had avoided dealing with her performance issues sooner and I had failed to set boundaries about bringing negativity into the office. I could have got personal, too, but went with the high road, though I could have been more graceful in how I handled a couple of the issues we’ve had with her attitude and behaviour.
Sunday, I spent a couple of hours preparing to do a formal performance evaluation with her. I laid out the steps I would be taking to address what she saw as deficiencies on my part, set up for a discussion of expectations, and had a plan to improve her performance. I finished the work feeling really good about the situation, and had come to appreciate that she had come forward – even by e-mail – so that it clarified all of the issues surrounding her work at the office.
Then, the Sunday night e-mail.
Again, her e-mail got personal. I will admit that I was felt angry, defensive, and disappointed.
Since then, I’ve talked to my husband and my other staff members and got their perspectives, and it has been so enlightening. I was able to turn this situation around in my head completely and, instead of seeing it as a negative one, I am seeing it as a good one. Really.
Here’s what I learned from this situation:
1. Avoid hiring family and friends (actually, I knew this one, but ignored it)
Honestly, I had reservations about this from the beginning. Yes, I didn’t know her that well, so it wasn’t like working with your aunt or something, but I already have trouble providing feedback to employees, and it becomes even harder when it’s someone you know from outside. Next time, I can listen to that little voice saying, “Don’t do it!”
2. Learning how to set boundaries is important
I have a tendency to let issues go too far and then close myself off and avoid people to deal. By establishing boundaries and being clear up front, I can catch issues early, I could avoid the discomfort I experience when someone breaches my boundaries, and there would be some feelings spared in the long run.
3. Sorting through my thoughts and changing them can totally change my feelings
Like I said, I was feeling angry, defensive, and disappointed after I received the email announcing that my employee quit. Thoughts were coming up, like, “I’m a bad boss, ” “I am a bad friend,” “I should have done something different to prevent this,” and “I am a terrible communicator.” And, you know what, I took a look at those thoughts, recognized that they were not truth, and came up with some new ones. “I am a pretty good boss and recognize that I have areas in which I can develop.” “I want friends who understand I have boundaries and honour them. ” “I did the best I could to help this employee be a functioning employee. Her thoughts and feelings are not in my control and are her responsibility, not mine.” “I am excellent at written communication and am developing more grace in my face-to-face communications.” These more positive thoughts totally shifted my feelings. Heck, I even hit joy, because I was able to realize just how far I’ve come in dealing with problems.
4. By focusing on my feelings of appreciation for someone, I can move from anger to full-out happy
I stewed a bit in my feelings of anger and defensiveness, and then I started to practice gratitude. I could appreciate the work that this person has done in the time she’s been in my office. I could appreciate that being in this situation reinforced that boundary-setting and avoidance are really important areas for me in which to develop, and this was totally in keeping with The Desire Map process. I could appreciate that, in leaving our team, the employee freed up a spot for someone who is a fantastic fit for our office. I could appreciate that I have reached a point where I could coach myself through a difficult situation and actually feel joy. I could appreciate that I could look at how this person behaved, identify how she projected her thoughts and feelings onto me, and not feel responsible for those thoughts and feelings. THIS WAS AWESOME!!!
5. Other people’s problems are just that: their own
I am responsible for what I think and feel. Other people can blame me for their thoughts and feelings all they want, but they choose to feel what they feel and think what they think, and that is within their sphere of responsibility. And if they are insecure (I am, too), they can try to take those feeling and project them onto me, but that doesn’t make them truth. I still care about other people, and I still care about their feelings, but I am not taking responsibility for them.
I have a touch of underlying bitterness, which is clear from this post, but, man, am I ever in a better space about this now than I was right after I read the quitting e-mail. A touch of bitterness is something that I can work through, and it’s a whole lot better than the level of anger I was at before.
How are you with setting boundaries? Have you ever had to give or receive negative feedback at work?