I’ve long had great disrespect for people who, when confronted with a topic they were unsure of, would blindly prattle on with complete disregard for accuracy. I once worked around a guy who was pretty close to outright dishonesty on a number of occasions and I hated going on client trips with him. I was glad to leave that company for any number of reasons, even though it meant me being out of work for awhile. That guy, while not my direct boss, had enough impact on my line of work that I was glad to be away from him.
I’ve never had a problem saying “I don’t know” because the next phrase out of my mouth is “but I’ll find out for you by tomorrow.” I never felt that diminished my credibility or weakened my position. Masiter, Green, and Galford make this point several different ways in The Trusted Advisor: you gain credibilty with your client (the ones you want) because you’re being completely honest with them and they’ll respect that.
Then came a meeting earlier this week. A couple decades of my stark adherance to “I don’t know” slipped away in a minute when I got confused about some issues several months in the past that I hadn’t been on top. I’d just moved into the role as project engineer and hadn’t completely caught up with the entire history of what had been going on around me.1 Instead of just saying “I don’t know; I’ll get back to you tomorrow” I prattled on like a complete asshat and talked myself into a spiral for a couple minutes. The customer was already unhappy for a number of reasons from both our and their side, and all I did was dig that hole deeper.
How do you get out of a hole? Stop digging first, dumbass.
I let my confusion over those issues, and my new role as the project engineer with a difficult client, lead me astray. The result? The client called our sales manager to express a lack of confidence in our ability to deliver. The customer saw my confused prattle as misleading and borderline dishonesty.
Ouch. Mega ouch.
If you know me personally then you may have an inkling of how much that hurt. You couldn’t hurt me worse by kicking me in the goolies or telling me my BBQ ribs suck. I had a talk with the sales manager and my boss and they know that I wasn’t intending to mislead, but it still hurts that an aspiring old fart like myself with a fair amount of experience let something get so out of hand.
I’m a firm believer that everyone should have a major “Oh Shit!” moment every once in a long while. Hard Knocks 101 is a great educator and reminder that there are indeed better ways to do things. My such moment came Monday.
The great program manager handling the project got things smoothed over with the client from the relationship side. Now I need to step up and smooth things over from the delivery side. We’re on track to deliver the client a solid system which will, hopefully, restore some of my credibility with the client.
Lesson learned? Yes. Absolutely.
 Yes, yes, yes. Do the agile thing and own the entire code and the entire project. There’s a different story around all that, but I’ll leave it for another Hard Knocks 101 post sometime later.