A letter to my boss

posted 14 January 2004

Having taken some time to think about the matter...

Today, it was clear that I made a mistake. You observed that something did not work as you thought it should, and I agree that it should not have worked that way. However, I respectfully request that you please don't go on about it.

When I make a mistake, I expect to take responsibility for that mistake. However, I do not expect to be blamed for that mistake. Blaming me does nothing to repair the error, and does nothing to prevent such mistakes happening in future. In fact, the only thing it does is annoy me, for no more rational reason than nobody likes being yelled at. It drains me of motivation, and takes the fun out of my work, replacing it with resentment, distrust and fear, none of which are conducive to productivity. Blaming me now encourages me to blame others when they make similar mistakes, encourages me to put off or avoid difficult decisions so that the responsibility for any mistakes are not mine, and fills me fear of whatever my next mistake will be, which puts me under stress and hence makes those mistakes more likely. I believe producing a company wide blame culture is poisonous to both personal and team effectiveness.

I believe the way to move forward from a mistake is to be "talked to" to "yelled at". I've not been working long; what should I learn from this mistake? Maybe I should have done more rigorous testing? Maybe I should have consulted you at some point in the design process? Maybe the lesson is about not taking shortcuts, or about better time management so that taking shortcuts doesn't become necessary? Or maybe the lesson is as simple as "it's confusing when you make a link that appears to do nothing. Make sure links like that don't appear." Perhaps that's a lesson I should have learned long ago, but if that's the only lesson to be learned, then I'll learn it now. Going on about how reprehensibly idiotic it was not to have learned that lesson earlier, what a class-A twat I am for making that mistake, achieves absolutely nothing more than annoying me with aggressive language.

I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is intended: I enjoy my work, and wish to continue to enjoy my work. But I hate getting yelled at.

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