Sample chapter from 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them…
Neglecting to write things down
When I was in college, I was given the assignment by my school newspaper to cover a political fundraising dinner with Richard Nixon scheduled as the guest speaker. This was an amazing opportunity – I was one of the hundreds of young journalists who went into the business after watching Watergate unfold. To get to see and hear the president who resigned after journalists exposed wrongdoings in his administration was something I would not have missed for anything in the world.
Armed with my reporter’s notebook and a tape recorder, I sat in a roped-off area to the side of the stage where Nixon spoke. (As you can imagine, Nixon wasn’t too keen on having journalists anywhere near him and we were told in no uncertain terms by the Secret Service to stay behind the rope.)
Nixon, reading from a prepared paper, was speaking too fast to take detailed notes by hand. I was grateful I had thought to bring the tape recorder, which I had switched on the minute he began to speak.
The next day sitting in my college newspaper office, I turned on the tape recorder to begin transcribing Nixon’s speech so I could write my story.
“L…aaaaa…” I heard.
I stopped the tape and then hit “play” again.
After a couple more attempts, I broke out in a cold sweat. The president who was at the center of an event that launched me into journalism was speaking as if he had a mouthful of marbles. I realized that the tape recorder’s batteries had been dying during Nixon’s speech. I had nothing useable on tape.
I quickly scrambled through my written notes. Very sketchy. Nothing too complete. I had attended my first presidential speech as a working journalist, and I had blown it.
I was sick.
Once I calmed down enough to think clearly, I realized that other journalists had been present. I quickly made some calls and found my reporting brethren to be sympathetic to my plight. A couple of them shared their notes so that I could fill in the holes from my own written ones, and I was able to put together a story.
To this day, even if I use a tape recorder, I still take complete notes by hand. Some sources have looked at me kind of strangely, wondering why I’m bothering to write it all down when I have a tape recorder running, but I’ll never forget Nixon’s slurred voice on that tape.
It certainly would have been convenient if I could have just given Nixon a call after I discovered my error. “Listen, Dick,” I’d say. “Got a little problem here with the tape recorder so I was just wondering if you could repeat your speech for me. You know how it is when you tape record conversations….”
Yeah, right. I’m sure Nixon would have appreciated that just as much as when you show up at your boss’s side to say, “You know that thing you told me? Well, I can’t quite remember what you said and I was wondering if you could go over it one more time…”
Bosses don’t like going over it one more time. They don’t like repeating things to workers who fail to write it down the first time. It’s a waste of their time. You interrupt what they’re doing to make them backtrack in their thoughts, possibly forcing them to search for their own notes on the subject. And God forbid, if you don’t write it down the second time they tell you, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re going to blow a gasket if you come to them a third time.
Relying on your own memory and recall ability is a tricky thing. It always amazes me when I go to a restaurant with friends or family. The friendly waiter approaches, and begins taking orders. Someone wants extra lemon in the tea. Another person wants no cheese, but extra mustard on a sandwich. Still another person wants the salad dressing on the side with no croutons or onions on the salad. The entire time the waiter is smiling – and not writing down a single word.
“Shouldn’t you be writing this down?” I sometimes ask. “Can you really remember all that?”
The waiter, usually much younger than I, smiles. “Oh, I never forget,” the waiter says.
And sometimes that is true. But more often than not, the extra lemon never arrives for the tea, there is no mustard or cheese on the sandwich, but plenty of croutons and onions on the salad. Alas, the salad dressing does arrive – but it is the wrong kind.
It’s irritating, but usually we just sort of make do. We don’t want to send the orders back, too hungry and often too rushed to wait to see what might arrive on the next attempt. But we don’t tip as much as we might have, taking the opportunity to send a silent little message to the waiter that next time he needs to write it down.
Bosses often feel the same way. Maybe you don’t write down his instructions but you still manage to get it – sort of. But because he’s pressed for time because his boss is pushing him to get something done, he just takes what you’ve done and tries to fix it. You can bet, however, that when it comes time for your “tip” – such as a raise or a promotion – your lack of attention is going to be noted.
Failing to write down what the boss says when giving instructions also bugs a boss because he sees it as a sign of disrespect. Your avoidance of taking notes tells him that you don’t think what he’s saying is important, because if it was, you would write it down.
I’m not saying you should write down every word the boss says. Not only is that impractical, but the boss may become annoyed as he is forced to talk to the top of your head, which is bent over a notepad while you scribble industriously. What I am saying is that taking notes in the right way and at the right time can not only make the boss appreciate your efforts, it can save you both time and energy because you have a clear idea of what you’re supposed to accomplish.
You should always take notes in the following situations:
- When issues are time sensitive. If a customer needs a quote by a certain time or a project is due on a specific date, write down the information.
- When the boss calls you into his office. Usually he has specific items on his mind, so grab a pen and paper and be ready to jot down pertinent information.
- When attending a meeting. Keep brief notes on who said what; write down detailed notes of issues directly involving you.
- When having phone conversations. Keep notes as you’re talking to the other person since you may be unable later to recall accurately what was discussed. Always makes sure that you note the caller’s contact information in case you have follow-up questions.
- When complaints are made. This is a key protection for you; write down the complaint and how you handled it. Keep notes of follow-up action. These may come in handy if the boss gets involved and wants to know what happened. You will come off as professional and prepared if you can relate what took place from your written notes.
If you’re not confident in your ability to take good notes, you should:
- Practice to develop your skill. If you’re not a fast writer, come up with some shorthand you will understand, especially for common terms in your business. If you’re really slow at taking written notes, practice while watching a news program or listening to talk radio to try and increase your speed. You really will become faster and more accurate over time.
- Ask questions. If you’re not clear as to what someone is saying, you can always comment, “I’m not clear what you mean by that,” or ask, “Can you give me an example of what you mean?” Never assume anything. Don’t worry about appearing stupid – think how dumb you’ll look if you get it wrong.
- Repeat key points. When the boss is finished telling you something, say “I’d like to read back some of my notes to make sure I’ve got it correctly.” Make sure you verify dates, names, spellings, specific instructions or key objectives.
- Keep notes organized. Always have a notebook ready to grab and take notes, along with a pen or pencil. Don’t try and jot down instructions on loose papers or other materials such as your hand (I’ve seen people do this, so don’t try and deny it). If that happens, immediately transcribe it into your notebook at the first opportunity. Use a notebook that is easy to write in whether you are sitting, standing or walking. Once a notebook is full, write on the front the period of time that it covers – this will make it easy to keep your notes organized.