Really, this blog post could begin and end with the title. Write it down. This, however, is a lesson that I learned the hard way recently, so allow me to say a few more words.
The issue in question was a sensitive conversation with a staff member about expectations. I assumed I was clear. But it has recently become apparent that we have very different interpretations of the conversation.
Sometimes we don’t write things down because we’re too busy. Or too rushed. And there is definitely a lesson here about slowing down and being deliberate and focused. But sometimes, I think we don’t write things down because we don’t think we need to. But I don’t mean those cases where we think we’re sure we’ll remember later. I’ll say it baldly: my memory is awful. If the reason to write something down is that so I’ll remember it, then I do.
No, what I have in mind here is something slightly different. I’m thinking of a friendly, collegial conversation that goes well. But it’s still a conversation that involves issues that touch on workload, expectations, classroom performance or similarly sensitive issues. Yet you finish the conversation and you think to yourself “Gee, that went well. We talked about some touchy stuff, but I think we came to a constructive understanding.” That kind of good will and pleasant exchange doesn’t inspire record-keeping. I also think we (and by this I mean myself) might resist the temptation to write things down out of sense of not wanting to seem mean or suspicious or litigious. We want to expect the best of people, and don’t think it’s necessary.
But you should do it just the same.
As I discovered recently, even a friendly conversation can result in different interpretations. Sometimes deceit or malice are involved in the later controversy, but more often than not, I think it’s honest disagreement. Sometimes we hear what we want to hear. Sometimes we don’t express ourselves well. Sometimes we’re reluctant to ask questions or seek clarification.
So, if I could rewrite (pun intended) the past, what might I have done differently to avoid the scenario I described above? There are several options. I could have written a memo that communicated these expectations and then invited the faculty member to meet to discuss it. Or I could have written a summary of our conversation afterwards and shared it with him. Or perhaps, depending upon the individual and the circumstances, I could have done both.
The lesson here is deceptively simple: write it down.