We spend lots of time and energy covering our butts. Documents and emails are generated to record agreements, records are created for tasks we work on, and emails are stored in elaborate folder structures. All of this effort is put forth because we think we may need these documents in our defense later. So, how has this served us? When has documentation ever saved our butts? Yes, I’m sure there are a few of you raising your hands but, how many of you didn’t?
There are two courts where documentation can come to your aid: a court of law and a court of public opinion. You know what and where the court of law is. The court of public opinion is much different. It is comprised of your management, peers, team members, and anyone else who will listen to the gossip. It is conducted in hallways, lunch rooms, offices, and cubicles.
In the court of law a large amount of money is spent creating contracts, agreements, and documentation. There is also a lot of money spent defending positions too. Opposing parties never agree on the interpretation of the documents and what the circumstances of the situation were. Countless hours are spent posturing and clarifying what was documented. This is not a problem if the price of loosing is much greater than the legal costs of defending.
But what about the court of public opinion? Usually money isn’t spent or rewarded so money may not be at risk but reputations are. The process is much less sequential and formal. Both parties share their documents and emails with managers, team members, and friends in an attempt to bolster their position. Sometimes management meets to discuss the situation, but very little resolution comes of it. It becomes a he-said-she-said situation. No verdict is proclaimed; neither party’s reputation is seriously scarred but, a lot of time and energy is wasted.
Think about it. Where else could those hours have been used? What might have been produced with all that wasted effort? Given that we all have so much more work to do than we have time to do it, wouldn’t it be better for us to tackle this other work than spend time protecting our butts? This is not to say we shouldn’t keep any emails or document anything, we just need to be a little more reasonable about it.
Next time you start to document something stop and think about not doing so. How much anxiety does this stir up inside you? This will give you a sense of how prone you are to wanting to protect yourself. Then ask yourself if you are documenting to protect yourself or if you are attempting to enhance communication between you and the other party; if you are enhancing communication that is a good thing. Then ask yourself what the potential consequences are if you don’t document and judge the severity of the situation using a much more liberal perspective. In the end it may not be worth your time and effort. All of these check points may cause you to act differently. That’s OK. Try it. It could be a very freeing experience.
What is your opinion about keeping documentation at work? Let us know in the comments section below.