In the winter of 2004, I screwed it up big time at the workplace. I processed a medical claim without going into the specifics or cross verifying the policies applicable to that particular case. And unfortunately, the claim was picked up for an audit by my client’s team in Dallas, Texas. They escalated the issue to my manager, who, in turn, threw bolts of lightning at me in front of the entire floor (I think there were at least 70 people, give or take a few.)
After she had vented out entirely, she asked me to come to her cabin. My teammates were sympathetic (barring a couple of clowns), they said such errors happen, escalations are quite common, and the boss happens to be in a bad mood. That felt relieving and nerve-wracking at the same time! I wasn’t looking forward to the conversation with my boss.
I got inside the cabin. The boss asked me to sit in the only chair there was as she chose to stand. She then went on to give me another lecture before she asked me the ultimate question — “why do you think this happened, Sunil?”
I said, “I honestly don’t know; it could be because I have been doing back-to-back shifts and I must have been mentally exhausted by the time I got to the claim.” She looked at me like a hawk who was about to attack but decided otherwise.
I explained that I have been doing back-to-back triple shifts (three 9-hour shifts without any break) the past four months because I needed my Saturdays to study for my courseware. (I was pursuing my undergraduate program in English Literature back then). That might have calmed her down, although only for a moment before she said, “Sunil, if I were you, I would…”
To this day, I still don’t have a clue what she said after uttering those words. It didn’t make any sense. Clearly, she didn’t understand what I was going through. She assumed having all the answers. Exactly most people (and leaders) end up doing!
Think of the last time you heard those words. Were you satisfied with the resolution or the idea that was offered to you? Probably not. The advice lacked empathy. You see, it doesn’t matter what I would do if I were you because I am not you! I can never be you. Saying those words means you’re either assuming or imposing your views on to the other person. And that’s not good if you’re a leader trying to build influence or a coach trying to help his client gain clarity or a marketer trying to reach her audience.
Someone wise once said, “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.”
And “if I were you” one of the grossest assumptions you can make because you possibly can’t be the other person. Nor can she be you! The alternative is to ask, “what do you think can be done differently?” See where the focus is? On the other person. Exactly where it should be at all times, regardless of who you are or what you do.