You may not be a troublemaker, or someone who raises hell in the workplace. But sometimes trouble has a way of finding even the best employee. Workplace miscommunication and conflict can add stress to every day and make your life miserable. But there's an easy way to protect yourself from accusations, blame and disrespect at the office: by keeping great notes.
Why does conflict happen?
In a work environment, most conflicts arise due to miscommunication. Either expectations weren't clear or they changed when you weren't looking. The best way to avoid conflict is to understand what you are being asked to do. The next best way is to have proof that you're doing what you were asked. That proof is complete and accurate notes. Of all the ways to keep yourself out of trouble and get ahead, your notes—if thorough and detailed—can provide you a clear path.
What do butt-covering notes look like?
First, all your notes should be dated. Date the top of each page and when someone makes an important statement, put a time next to it when you write it down. Dates and times become difficult to argue against when one person says one thing and you say another. Time and date specifics trump general claims in verbal arguments every time.
They say: "The other day I asked you to clean fish" You say: "On September 15th at 9:45a.m. we did talk, yes. But you asked me to send the fish out to be cleaned—which I did. They are at the fish cleaners right now."
After you refer to your notes a couple of times, your manager and co-workers will become aware that you document everything thoroughly. In turn, they'll rise to the occasion and communicate with you more clearly.
Build a file on your boss
Before we get to deep into this, Sherlock, let's set a few ground rules. First, I am not suggesting you spy on your boss. You aren't going out of your way to gather information. You are simply observing behaviour during meetings and one-to-one interactions and keeping detailed notes.
Don't feel bad about keeping a file on your boss, because your boss keeps a file on you. If all employees kept files on their bosses, lots of them would clean up their act. I hear complaints about various bosses getting away with murder for years. If these maniacs knew their employees kept files on them, detailing their every move? They might act differently, knowing their behaviour was being documented. Instead writing down every single thing he or she says, I like to record particularly good or bad things. Sometimes you'll see the boss do something great or say something offensive. Write it down, date and time stamp it and put it in the file. Consider keeping a copy of your boss file off-site so you'll have access to it no matter what happens at work.
Your notes will get you out of trouble
Have you ever had the situation where a boss told you to do something, and you did it, but then it failed, so you were blamed for doing it? Picture an employee trying to explain this without notes to back them up. "I thought you said to do it!! I remember you telling me to do it."
Compare that with someone who takes copious notes. He simply pulls out the original request. "Hmmm. Let's see here. Your request was AND I QUOTE to do 1, 2, 3... Are you changing your mind?"
Your notes will cover you
When you write down the request with a date and time, it is like building a shield. Poor managers learn they cannot lie about you thus will keep away. Good managers will respect your thoroughness.
Your notes will keep you on track
The older I get, the easier it is to forget details. As project managers know, small details can make or break a project. Therefore, by keeping good notes, you can always go back and remember those niggling details. This makes you more efficient and effective because you can do the job right, with no hand holding.
Your notes will get you a raise
Have you ever had your boss peek their head in your office and say "what have you been up to the last week, month or year?" If you don't have good notes, how can you possibly remember? IT people fall into this trap all the time. They are used to doing and doing, but not recording what they do. So employers can get away with granting meager pay raises and outright disrespect. Put good notes behind a good IT person and then what happens? He or she becomes indispensable.
Notes as butt-covering protection
I hate to tell you this, but in even the very best companies, a competitive vibe of us versus them can arise. Everyone is trying to get ahead, and sometimes people will see you as a stepping stone to get there. Protect yourself. Get a thorough understanding of what your job is and do it. Don't bleed your efforts into other areas until your job is done. Finally, build up your notes. Don't skip along hoping that everything is going to be ok. It might not be.
So use your notes as your get-out-of-jail-free card.