How Errors Lead to Conflict: Or, When an Error is not an Error

In my last blog I outlined the concept of the Gap between Values and Behavior. That gap is created when behavior is not consistent with values. Values can be things like accuracy, professionalism, competency, community, or family, for example.

How to Cause a Gap Using the Value of Accuracy
If your boss is someone who takes errors very seriously and personally, a quick and easy way to create a Gap between his values and your behavior is to make an error in your work.

What Happens When There is a Gap?
Stimulating a Gap can lead to yelling and judging and other abrasive or even bullying behavior. When actions are not consistent with values, then people get anxious, sometimes very anxious. Surprisingly, the person who gets the most anxious is the one who is experiencing the Gap. They feel powerless, ashamed, frustrated, and sometimes even offended.

Who is Responsible for These Aggressive Actions Caused by The Gap?
While you may have sparked the anxiety by making a mistake, the fact is the person who feels the gap and is acting out is always responsible for his or her own behavior. If the boss is acting out, the boss is culpable for the aggressive behavior. BUT, knowing what is causing some of the anxiety gives you the information you need to either make the situation worse or improve it.

How to Make Reactions to the Gap Worse?
It is common to feel that the boss is overreacting to errors. But you’re assuming your boss is overreacting does not help the situation because it makes your boss feel less understood and more isolated. Minimizing the meaning or impact of errors makes the situation worse. Your boss does not understand why you do not understand how important it is to be error-free. And they do not understand why you are not more concerned about the errors and more committed to perfection.

How Can You Make Things Better?
Acknowledge the importance of accuracy and be accountable for your mistakes. Avoid being defensive about your errors. Empathize with your boss’ position. He or she is in charge of your final product and is dependent upon you to honor his or her value of accuracy. If you cannot make or honor that commitment to close that Gap, then it might be time for you to move on.  But if you can align your value of accuracy with your boss’ value of accuracy, you bring new meaning and importance to your own work.