Monday, December 17, 2012

The Blame Game

In a New Yorker report "Why Smart People Are Stupid," Jonah Lehrer writes that people are bias when it comes to thinking.  According to the study, the smarter we are the more bias we become.  In a workplace full of intelligent employees, you can see how bias may get in the way.  If you are not sure how this could apply to your library, allow me to paint this picture for you:

A very hard worker named Sally always does her job diligently.  While weeding a particular section of the library, Sally noticed quite a few materials from another collection misshelved.  Concerned, she spoke with Jane, her supervisor.  Sally asked Jane to spread word via email about the misshelved collection, asking other workers to be mindful when sorting materials on the cart.  Jane was hesitant to send an email after reading the New Yorker article.  She understood that most everyone would already think the email did not apply to them, assuming the oversight must be someone else.  But Jane relented and sent the email.  The following day, after having sent the email, Jane went to assist Sally with sorting books.  The first thing she noticed was that Sally had missorted an item from the collection she had referred to yesterday.  Knowing that it was just a mistake, Jane corrected the error and never mentioned a thing to Sally.

This scenario is very common among the workplace.  When things go wrong, we naturally look for the right person to blame, often times forgetting that everyone has the same fatal flaw - our humanity.  Being human means being prone to make mistakes.  

You may be very familiar with Jane's situation and have probably sent out a few of those emails yourself.  The key is to not let employees and coworkers run amok with constant finger pointing and corrections.  There are two significant factors to look out for:
  1. Verification - the employee wants you to understand that there is a bigger issue which needs to be addressed.  Asking questions to identify if the problem is repetitive or a one time occurrence will clue you in on what action to take.  If mistakes are happening over and over again, it may be time to offer training on that topic.
  2. Venting - the employee wants you to know that a mistake has happened and has effected them personally.  These are usually one time occurrences where the employee needs to be reminded about humanity's flaw and that forgiving and forgetting is the best policy.
Just as Sally would not have suspected she was the one contributing to the misshelving, it can be difficult to consider yourself as a culprit of the crime.  The beauty of mistakes is that it makes us human.  The key is allowing others to make mistakes as well.  Before bringing mistakes to your supervisor's attention, take into consideration two things:
  1. Verification - is this issue something that has been repeatedly happening and needs to be addressed either in a meeting or through training?  If this is the case, then a supervisor should be alerted to make them aware of the gap in information.
  2. Venting - if the mistake is a one time deal, it may be best to remember our humanity and forgive the person the mistake.  If you know who made the mistake, you can politely call their attention to the mistake.  If not, just shrug it off and know that there have been plenty of mistakes you've made in the past but never knew about them.
Basically, give people the benefit of the doubt and remember you are only as perfect as your coworker.

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