If You Don’t Know, Say So

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A Tennis ball on a green court
A Tennis ball on a green court

People are flat out crazy.  And, I’ve got a story to tell…

I enjoy playing tennis, and Atlanta is a great place to be with over 100,000 enthusiasts signed up for league play in ALTA, USTA, League Tennis, T2…lots of options.  But, some of the people who participate are c-r-a-z-y.

Recently, I’m playing a double’s match.  Our opponents are up at the net.  My partner hits a nice, deep lob over their heads.  Both freeze, thinking the other guy will get it.  Too late, one of the opponents (we’ll call him “Moe”) tries to run down the lob but cannot recover in time.  Point over.  Moe turns to his partner “Joe” (made-up name), and they have this conversation…

Moe:   “I didn’t see the ball hit – was it in?”

Joe: “I don’t know – I never turned around.”

Moe: “Well…I’m calling it out then.”

Ouch.  You don’t have to be a member of the All England Club at Wimbledon to know that’s not proper tennis etiquette.  Understandably, my partner was not happy.  He politely asked Moe to clarify his call.  Moe made matters worse by pointing to a spot beyond the baseline with his racket and saying, There’s the mark.  It’s out.” This would be the stage in my story where communication between my partner and the opposing team broke down.  Badly.  I’ll confess – I’m very competitive, but this scenario struck me as funny…it was too absurd to make me mad.

Moe was being ridiculous, right?  That kind of behavior could be categorized as crazy.  But, my money says you’ve seen this in the work place.  That’s right – the profession of project management deals with the same issue.  There are times when we feel the pressure to obfuscate the truth with big words (like obfuscate), vague reports, smokescreens, or passive-aggressive behavior.  I’ve been in meetings with sponsors, senior staff, and vendors where the truth was painful.  It hurt.  But, you’ve got to say it.  And, if you don’t know the answer, say so.  Don’t bluff…and certainly don’t lie.

Here’s the problem.  Once Moe made that silly call and pointed to a fake spot, the 3 guys playing tennis with him lost a little respect.  It took some fun out of the game.  Things got tense.  Future calls by Moe were doubted and scrutinized.  The same happens in projects.  You’ve probably got your share of stories…most of us do.

Hopefully, this tennis story will serve as a reminder to you and me to be the same person whether at work or at play.

Don’t bluff. Do tell the truth. You’ll sleep better at night!