Even if all you can say is that you are
aware and will update with more information at a specific time, then you
are at least able to fulfill a promise to
your boss/team/customer by following
through and giving them an update
at the specified later time. This is far
better than making them wait in radio silence while you try to figure out
what is going on. They will spend that
time feeling negative about you or your
team, which only amplifies the impact
of the problem.
Tip: Look for ways you can help your
customers avoid having a bad experience with your product, whether with
a notification letting them know about
the problems or pointers to documentation to help them work around it.
3. There is a decision that
you don’t agree with.
When you care a lot about your work,
it can be really difficult to get behind
a decision you don’t agree with. You
might feel like it is worth speaking
up—but this can be challenging when
that decision is made by someone who
is one, two, or more levels above you.
Sure, many technology execs claim
they want everyone who disagrees to
raise questions, but is that something
you really want to gamble your career
on? When it comes to navigating these
situations, there is generally a right
way and a wrong way to disagree.
When you first hear about a decision that you think is a bad call—
such as a re-org or a new feature you
believe is a waste of time—it can be
a really fraught moment. You might
feel frustrated or angry, which can
lead you to give an overly emotional
response that is both unproductive
Remember there is someone in the
chain who thinks this is a good idea;
that is why it is being implemented.
So, it is worth your time to try to understand the “why” behind this idea—it
just might change your mind, and even
if it doesn’t, it will give you the context
you need to make an argument that
could actually convince the decision
maker that you are right.
Next time there is a decision that
you don’t agree with, instead of jump-
ing to “no,” try asking about the goal.
What is this person trying to achieve?
If you still don’t agree with the explana-
now that interaction will negatively
color their view of you.
They still end up knowing that you
don’t know, but now you have also
wasted their time. Or even worse, you
give them an answer you think is correct, but you turn out to be wrong.
Then you are in a situation where you
actually are uninformed, and you are
left crossing your fingers hoping no
one will ever find out.
If you take the long view, you will realize it is always much better to admit
you don’t know something, but then
take action to fix it.
In this case the pattern is:
A. Admit you aren’t certain.
B. Own the follow-up to determine
C. Give a timeline for when you will
D.Deliver a correct, concise, and
When you say, “I don’t know, but I
can investigate and get back to you after lunch” or “I don’t know, but ______
does and I will ask her and get back to
you by the end of the day,” suddenly
you are a person solving a problem.
Any time you don’t know, be clear
that you don’t know, but follow up
with a plan for how you will get the
information and with a deadline for
conveying that information. That is
all the person asking the question really wants anyway: for you to supply
Smart people don’t know everything; they just know where to look to
find out what they need to know.
2. There is a problem that is
your fault or responsibility.
Have you ever been in a situation where
something went wrong (such as a system outage) and you wanted to figure
out the cause/solution to the problem
before broadcasting it more widely?
I know this is how I feel—especially if
keeping that system up and running is
my (or my team’s) responsibility.
When problems occur, there is a
natural instinct to hide or deny the
problem is a problem, or that it is even
happening at all. We want to minimize
the problems that are our responsibil-
ity because, after all, a big part of our
job is to make sure problems don’t
happen. When you are proactive about
sharing and fixing a problem, however,
In general, it is always better to con-
trol the message and have your man-
agement learn of the problem from
you (instead of a customer or a boss).
Great leadership is keeping everyone
on the same page, and it is your job to
communicate proactively so there are
If your system experiences an outage or any other customer-impacting
issue, you should be the first person to
share the issue with your manager, customers, team, or whoever is affected by
the problem. This makes you the proactive one who discovered the problem
and is already working to address it before anyone else even knows about it.
For this pattern the steps are:
A. Let the key people know you know
about the problem and are working on
a solution. Establish yourself as the
owner and let them know you will see
this through to the finish.
B. Share steps if you know them, but
if you do not know the answer, let the
key people know when you will provide the next update (for example, “We
aren’t sure what caused the problem,
or the impact, but will provide another
update in an hour”).
C. Give a timeline. This is the most
important thing you can do. When
will the problem be fixed? If you don’t
know when or how it will be fixed yet,
when will you provide an update? What
possible solutions are you going to try
and when will you know the results?
Give specific answers to specific
questions. It is never okay just to say,
“We’re working on it.”