Today’s blog is a contribution from a past colleague of mine, Deborah Fairbotham. Deb and I worked together for a few months in 2018 and have remained friends ever since.
Deb has had a varied career that has let her see the many different sides of humanity. From developing her leadership skills with over 20 years' involvement in the Armed Forces, as well as all sorts of international organisations, she realised that what she enjoys most is seeing other people grow through their own development. She asserts that: "By seeing things from someone else's point of view, you can coach them and learn something about yourself too."
After a difficult year, Deb says that she has learnt the power of kindness and understanding and she firmly believes that 'doing the right thing', with integrity, is vital.
Deb is currently seeking an opportunity with an organisation that has a caring and inclusive ethos. You can see more about her professional background in her LinkedIn profile: Here and you can also find her on Twitter: @LearningLadyDeb
Deb originally wrote this post in 2017 when she was working as an Online Tutor, but the message is equally (if not more) relevant today.
Over to Deb:
When I started this one today it was going to be a bit of a rant about students, as an online tutor I deal with quite a few, but after a few dozen lengths of my local pool I realised that this is more than just education, this is a worldwide problem. The even more upsetting thing is I think I might be as bad as those I want to rant about and I hate to suggest this, I bet you have contributed too.
Digital is great, I can order a bikini, design a pizza and book my next holiday (caravan site for one, make sure it is away from the road and I expect not to be on that one next to the toilet block… oh yes now I remember, please) never actually speaking to someone — though I might have to grunt at the pizza delivery guy — and that’s part of the problem. Why is alright to grunt at anyone? I work from home, in a growing digital sector, so I never actually see my students, they see me when I am teaching and I do have a good relationship with some students, but others I never hear a peep from — until something goes wrong. That digital barrier seems to suggest it is ok to grunt or even snap at your service provider — because computers don’t have feelings do they?
And before you say “I’m not a troll, this isn’t me” I hate to break it to you I bet you are. (And if you think this is isn’t about you I love the song from Avenue Q, Everyone’s a little bit Racist — listen and see if you still feel the same!). Come on, who hasn’t shouted at the guy who asks you for your name for the 7th time when all you want is a bank balance over the phone or banged off that email about how horrendous the service was because your lunch took 9 minutes to arrive instead of 5. Yep its all of us and while it may seem harmless to snap back perhaps the reader doesn’t have the power or tools to do what you want and is trying to explain that in a way that doesn’t translate well onto the screen.
So what started me off today? Well I had a student email me to berate me for not answering the phone when they called last night at 10 pm so they fired off an email in anger, CCing the world — did she want to get me in trouble, because that was the tone. Well no I do stop work at 5 pm as advertised, but digital means students can work 24 hours a day so that answer wasn’t good enough. The purpose of their call was to tell me I must be wrong with an answer I gave, well it wasn’t me that said that but actually that person was right — it just wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear, so now I was avoiding the issue and it was still my fault they failed. Things escalate so quickly when you have a fixed view point and are on a mission to be right, using email or even the phone means you lose all the body language clues and I think more importantly you don’t have those cues to understand when you have stepped over the line. You don’t get to see the fall out, the stress that little email conversation had because you don’t know about the 3 other emails I had from students telling me they needed extensions because they were ill or the fact the cat just barfed over the office rug, perhaps you don’t care but you expect me to care about your issues, even when I didn’t know about them…
So what is the solution, on a global scale I think we need to decide if this is really a step forward, 24 hour working, phones glued to our wrist? If you own a company are you really happy that you are killing your staff with high blood pressure and depression? According to the UK government stress related illness accounted for 45% of all days lost to illness in 2015/16. What do you have in place to stop your home based staff feeling isolated? (And there is nothing lonelier than being in a room of overworked and unhappy people as well). For all your employee engagement initiatives do they translate to all your staff or just the few that can collar you on a daily basis and don’t forget the dark side, over engagement also leads to burnout.
Not all of us have the power to change from within but perhaps you can do you bit to make someone else’s day a little less stressful, be kind, remember they are only doing a job, they don’t make the rules. If you are firing off an email sit on it for an hour and think would you send that to your significant other? Remember being kind to others is also being kind to yourself, I’m not saying stop suggesting improvements or constructively criticising when it is justified — just remember the old adage, what goes around comes around.
Thank you to Deb for sharing this piece. It's a useful reminder of the importance of stepping back and considering our approach before sending off that email response to a customer, or responding to that message from a colleague. Above all else, we must take actions in a considerate way, remembering that there is a person with feelings at the other end, something which the virtual world can sometimes make us less mindful of.
Thank you once again to Deb for this piece, a timely reminder with so many working predominantly from home.
If you would like to submit a blog for this series, please send your work via email to: email@example.com.
See you tomorrow for the next instalment!
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