I screwed up at work today. I talk often about my successes; It’s only fair that I should also talk about my failures. And today was definitely a failure, and it was my failure.
My client and I were working on a Lego model. Well, actually, he was doing most of the work, and I was occasionally helping, and occasionally trying to help but actually screwing it up instead. That wasn’t the failure part, although I do feel bad for giving him the wrong instructions from time to time because I misunderstood the directions.
The problem was that the pieces to this model came in lots of little bags that separated out the pieces for the different sections. I wanted to keep them organized like that. He wanted to dump them all into one big tray. And I assumed, foolishly, that he simply didn’t understand the way they were organized, and that if I could get him to understand, he would do things my way, because my way made more sense.
So I wanted time to explain this before he dumped out all the pieces, and so I was taking the bags away from him. And he was trying to grab them back. I was being reactive, rather than reasoning. I panicked and made a disagreement into an unnecessary confrontation, because I was so focused on my goal that I forgot to respect his ability and right to make his own decisions. The end result was him shoving me, which I fully deserved, not because violence is acceptable, but because he had already made his decision clear to me multiple times, and I had disrespected it. I fully support the right of my clients to defend themselves physically when they have already asked for respect in other ways and been ignored.
I want to be clear that I am not saying that we should always give in to a child who wants to do things in a different way than we do. I AM saying that we need to make that decision calmly, not out of an emotional need to be in charge, and that if we’re going to override a child’s clearly expressed preference, we need a good reason to do so, such as a safety concern. Simply wanting to prove that I was right was not a sufficient reason for me to cause him significant emotional distress by withholding something he was trying to use. I was the adult in the situation, and I needed to keep my ego in check. Today, for a few minutes, I failed at that.
At that point, I realize that I was being the problem, and backed off. And I apologized. More than once. But damage was already done. He was angry at me, and had every right to be. I think he was still angry when I left, because he didn’t see me out to my car as he usually does. I broke his trust by behaving like another child rather than like an adult whose job is to care for him, and I don’t know when or if he will forgive me for that. More importantly, I realize he may feel less safe around me now, at least emotionally. I feel terrible about that. But feeling bad doesn’t fix anything, so instead I’m going to focus on doing better in the future, both with this client and in other situations. That’s all I can do. Learn from my own mistakes, and try not to make them again.