Vats of Slime, Thrown Under the Bus, and a Gracious Apology

Bridgette wrote a test-prep book that she will self-publish and has asked me to edit it for errors that she may have missed.

Which reminds me of a few stories.

When Claude was in the navy, he did some sort of work with nuclear stuff on some sort of ship.  I’ve never been exactly clear what he did with the nuclear stuff, but in my mind, he was working with big boiling vats of neon green slime filled with nuclear bombs that had lots of different colored wires snaking out of them.

In the event that there was some sort of attack, Claude (played by Matthew McConaughey) might have ended up pinned under the big round steam stack from the Titanic and would have had to use a walkie-talkie to walk the mess hall janitor (played by Chris Pine) through shutting down the bubbling reactor core before it exploded off the coast of St. Petersburg and started World War III.  (Yes, I know St. Petersburg doesn’t have a coast.  Leave me alone.)

As part of Claude’s training, he was taught how to give precise instructions if such an event occurred. For their training exercise, the trainees had to pair up and write a how-to manual explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As each pair brought their manuals to their trainers, the trainers tried to follow the instructions to make the sandwich.  One pair wrote, “Open the jar of peanut butter,” but didn’t explain how to do that.  The trainers looked at each other, shrugged, and threw the jar on the ground to shatter it open.

Another pair wrote, “Put the peanut butter on one slice, and the jelly on the other slice.  Put the slices together.”  So, the trainers put the entire jar of peanut butter on one slice, the entire jar of jelly on the other, and slid the bread with the jars next to each other (bonk).

Claude and his partner were the only pair whose how-to manual resulted in an actual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, albeit a sloppy one.

What you learn from an exercise like that is how not to assume your audience has any prior knowledge of what you’re teaching them. Claude learned that in a training exercise, but I learned that in real life, as a corporate trainer.

When I was a trainer, I had to write training manuals.  I would think they were done, and would stand in front of a class and pass them out.  But inevitably, I would have made some sort of assumption that would confuse the class.  And oftentimes, you don’t even know the assumption you’ve made, until you’re standing there and the voices start up, ‘Um…I don’t understand the instructions on page three—what are we supposed to do?”

So, when our company bought new software and we had to re-teach the entire company how to use their computers, the other trainer, Mike, and I set to work writing training manuals.  Mike wrote the manuals for the Customer Service Reps and then ran out of steam.  So I wrote everything else.  When I was done with writing all the manuals, I asked Mike to review them for me.  I said, “Pretend you don’t know anything about the software and follow along step-by-step and see if I’ve left something out.”

Mike didn’t want to do that, and who could blame him?  It’s really boring editing training manuals.  Whenever I’d ask him to review my stuff, he’d just sigh and wave his hand around.  I’d like to think that he never reviewed them because he had such confidence in my considerable manual-writing talents.

When the first day of training dawned, Mike went to his classroom and I went to mine, both armed with the training manuals we’d composed.

Mike taught from his training materials and then was done with his and had to move on to the manuals I had written.  There he was, standing in front of his coworkers, who were anxious about the training and resistant to the new software.  And sometimes anxious, resistant trainees, to relieve their tension, enjoy playing Make the Trainer Look Dumb In Front of the Class.

On about page three, they ran into things in my manual that didn’t make sense; assumptions I’d made.  Open the jar of peanut butter—how?  By smashing it?  With their nerves and anxiety they were a little testy about not understanding the manuals and gave Mike a hard time about it.  So Mike said, “Well, I didn’t write these.  Jackie wrote these.”

Way to throw me under the bus, Mike.

This continued throughout the day.  Any time a trainee found a mistake, Mike would blame me and my dismal manual-writing talents, until the end of the day, when one of the trainees said, “So, Mike.  Jackie wrote these manuals, right?”

“Oh, yes.  Definitely.  It was all Jackie.”

“Uh huh.  So, uh, Mike…did you do any of the work preparing to train us?  Or did Jackie do it all?”

“Um.  Well.  Uh…”

Class: 1, Trainer: 0.  The class won that round of Make the Trainer Look Dumb in Front of the Class.

And I learned how to make a Gracious Apology that day.  Instead of hiding what had happened, Mike came into the office/training room we shared, looking sheepish and contrite.  He told me the story and then told me how amazingly awesome I was and how sorry he was that he hadn’t helped me write the manuals and how I was right to have asked him to preview the manuals and he was wrong not to have done so.

I’ve always remembered that.

And the day I threw him under the bus in front of our boss, and he angrily confronted me about it and then yanked the door open, ready to storm out of the room in a huff, I called after him, “Mike!  You’re right and I’m wrong.  I’m so sorry.”  And immediately, the anger went out of him.

We all do stupid things from time to time, even me, and when you do, ‘fess up, take full responsibility, and graciously apologize.

And now I’m off to edit Bridgette’s book.

———————

Picture of the day.

Boy7 had a friend visit today.  We thought Friend was arriving at 1:00.  Friend thought he was arriving at 1:30.  Boy7 sat on the front porch, waiting for half an hour.

And then!  Friend arrived!

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