Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saving a Relationship

"Thank you for your honesty and willingness to speak your truth to me"

In my work as a volunteer, I have had to interact with many people on staff … you know, people whose job it is to contribute to the well-being of the organization for which I am volunteering. I get along with all the people very well … when problems arise that I cannot handle I usually communicate with one of them and things are made right rather quickly.

This is a story about an exception. And because it is an exception to that getting along with everyone, I am going to bend over backwards to tell the story and obscure the characters.

A software tool that I was using began to perform unreliably … sometimes it worked fine, other times it didn't. Occasionally it wouldn't even start for me. This same tool was used by other volunteers, in ways both different from and similar to the way I used it and they were experiencing the same issues I was. This wasn't the "only tool in town," so I spoke to others about using one of the other tools. This was not a decision I could just make and implement as it affected the other volunteers, as well as some staff.

The staff liaison ( Fran, not a real name ) wrote to me, "I'd like to communicate with you as soon as possible." I was with my wife and a friend at an orthopedic urgent care facility, to which we had taken our friend, when I got this email. We were worried about our friend, but this was urgent, so I responded immediately, providing information about the best way to contact me for the rest of the day.

Later, after a meeting in which we touched on this problem as one of several topics discussed, Fran asked me to provide some windows of time which would work for me so she could arrange a meeting with me and other staff people to consider possibilities. I responded by blocking out numerous 2-3 hour windows in the next few weeks and a day or two later sent that information.

"How can we give Pat ( name changed ) access to the tool so she can see how it works?" Fran asked about the S/W guru, who was becoming involved in the discussion. I responded that while I am an administrator of the tool, I cannot "give" her access; I can invite her but she has to respond to the invitation.

Still later, after inviting Fran to use the tool, Fran wrote, "I am having trouble getting to the tool." I verified that Fran did, indeed, have access. I spent some considerable time opening and using the tool and taking screen shots as I went. I e-mailed the screen shots, annotated with directions about what it all meant.

After each of these responses to Fran's email, Fran failed to respond. No follow up, no thank you, no acknowledgement, nothing. Being treated this way hurt, creating some animus. I considered giving Fran some feedback about how it hurt.

I found Fran one morning, and asked if the screen shots had I sent helped. "Yes," Fran said, "they did. I'll follow up with you, then, in a couple of weeks after this project I'm working on finishes."

I heard myself say, "No, Fran, I'm not interested. There has been too much time, too many failures to close the loop, too many failures to follow up. I am done with you on this topic. If you want to have a meeting, contact me at the time and we'll see." I realized my body knew it was time to give the feedback I had been considering.

"Evidently, I've let you down," Fran said; "I am very sorry."

"Yes, I accept." I believe I said that. And we went our separate ways. While I was glad to have said what I did, I felt a sense of disease. Unfinished.

Several days later Fran sent me an email; it began, "Thank you for your honesty and willingness to speak your truth to me." Happily, I think this is the beginning, or a continuation, of the reparation of our relationship. It bears watching.

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