It’s an occupational hazard, in my line of work. Because what I do – give legal advice – can be misunderstood, or deliberately ignored, I was taught early on by mentors how to ensure that no one could in the future say ‘she didn’t say that!’
Hence, I’ve learned multiple ways to cover your butt at work; below are a few.
A lot of times we have to make sure to let others know that indeed, we have received the message, and that we’re working on their project.
If you’re like me, you always have a ton of projects in queue. So, to let people know that you received their request and are working on it is always helpful.
Furthermore, for me, I like to know when things are truly urgent, and when things can be pushed out just a bit. So, I often respond with a ‘message received’ email and ask when they need the project completed.
And… although I’m happy to speed things up if there’s a true need, I don’t want to be at the mercy of others’ bad planning.
Here’s a trick: I tell folks that there are already a number of projects ahead of them in queue (all true), and that I’d be happy to shuffle to get them to the front of the line, but I need a quick email from their supervisor (or appropriate high level authority) explaining why this needs to be moved ahead of other projects from those who made the request prior.
This strategy is not intended to be contrary, but if I have to explain to those who have already been waiting for their projects why theirs got moved down, I’d better have a good reason. This message often weeds out the false emergencies from the truly urgent matters.
Use this trick, sparingly, however. I know in my organization – and probably yours – many of us lower on the totem pole get items dropped on our desk at the last minute. You want to be sympathetic, and helpful, when that happens to a colleague. When you help them out, you create goodwill, and hopefully they’ll help you out in the future, if needed.
When you absolutely MUST ensure that a message comes across clearly, you have to put it in writing. This may not be the first thing you do – I often make a call to preface my emails – but make sure you send the message, and take your time crafting the right words.
Again, I’m often in the position of sharing news that may not be the easiest to swallow. So I have to spend some time making sure that when I sit down to write the message, I have the right tone.
Emails can sometimes seem heavy handed, if you’re not careful. And remember, emails don’t have your ability to read the other person’s reaction, so double- and triple-check the message before you hit send.
The flip side to this is do NOT put in an email something you don’t want on the front cover of the New York Times. This means extra care when you’re sending not just messages of high import, but think before casually tossing off a snarky email comment.
Getting the Message to the Right Person
Sometimes it’s important that someone higher up in your chain of command get a message -- and it’s not getting there through normal channels.
Nevertheless, if for whatever reason you believe it is important that the message be heard and understood by a person in a position several steps above you, you must take the time, and make the effort to carefully – and judiciously – share this information.
Perhaps you can catch this someone in the coffee room, and share, “Hey, I don’t know if so and so has had a chance to mention this to you yet, but….” Or, you may want to try talking to their assistant and having the assistant carefully share the message.
You’ll have to maneuver the specifics of your workplace, but you know when the messages aren’t getting through. It’s important to take that next step and make sure the CORRECT message gets to the right people – especially when your own position is at stake.
The below were just a few ideas. I’d love to hear from you! When and how do you cover your assets at the workplace?
Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.