I told you
August 22, 2003
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One of the most frustrating positions at work or
home is when you want to say “I told you so”, but can’t.
In business this usually occurs when you warn against a problem only to
have the problem occur anyway. While you are probably wise enough to not
say it out loud, the chorus of “I told you so” echoing in
your head can sometimes become deafening. As you can imagine, though,
expressing those thoughts could lead to your marginalization, if not to
the outright loss of your job. While this can be an ugly situation, there
are a few ways to help ease the pain, both to your psyche and your high-tech
If you feel you are facing an ITYS situation, the first action you must
take is a reality check. You must be very honest with yourself. Are you
reacting to legitimate technical concerns or do you have some ulterior
motive to your resistance? We can all be resistant to change or have a
personal dislike of a co-worker. Are you using your own prejudices to
undermine an otherwise sound project. This may seem harsh, but I have
personally seen many a project sabotaged by in-fighting and politics that
might otherwise have succeeded. I can guarantee you that being seen as
an obstructionist, for whatever reason, is no way to enhance your career.
If your motives are suspect, someone is bound to figure this out and call
you on the carpet.
If, after some time though, you decide that there are flaws in a project,
you owe it to yourself, and your company, to make your reservations known.
Bringing up your concerns when a project fails serves no one and can seriously
damage your relationship with your co-workers. You will want to address
your concerns in the most diplomatic way possible, but you need to make
them clearly known early enough to be considered useful. Too often, we
couch our concerns in such a non-threatening manner that others don’t
take see them clearly, or take them seriously.
Each situation is unique, so you will have to decide at which point your
concerns have been heard or are falling on deaf ears. Pursuing your concerns
too long will generate further resistance and animosity. Know when the
battle is lost or won and do not fight any longer than that.
Whether your concerns about a project have been addressed or not, it is
important that you document them and document to whom you communicated
these concerns. It is an ugly fact of business that recriminations can
sometimes occur when a project fails. You want to make sure that you have
your ducks in a row, so that other, less scrupulous people don’t
try to blame the failure on you. You want to be able to clearly show your
concerns were communicated should this occur.
If you find yourself engaged in a large amount of this CYA (cover your
you know what) type of activity, though, it can be indication that you
should be looking elsewhere for a better job. Any company that operates
this way will eventually place you in a position of taking the blame for
a failure you foresaw but weren’t given the authority to rectify.
If you truly feel a project is misguided, your only recourse may be to
prepare for its eventual failure. While you might be unable to stop a
project, you can develop plans that will make your life easier when it
occurs. If you can’t control the project, at least you can control
your reaction to its failure. Being prepared is the best way to ease your
Praise, or the lack of it.
One final important thought. If you are indeed called upon to pick up
the pieces of a project failure, don’t expect any praise for your
efforts. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is a simple, hard truth
of business. In many cases, bruised egos and angry management will simply
want the problem to disappear. They will be more interested in shifting
the blame or punishing the guilty than praising your work.
If you were well-prepared for the failure, some might take this as proof
that you never believed in the project, or them from the beginning. They
might even try to blame you for sabotaging their project. Sometimes rationality
goes out the window in the midst of a big failure. You will have to remember,
though, that you did everything you could to prevent the failure. No matter
what anyone might try to tell you, you did the right thing.
There is no perfect way to navigate the “I told you so” situation,
but simply being aware of the pitfalls is a great place to start. It can
be a mind field of recriminations and ego, but as long as you continue
to serve your needs and the needs of your company, there is no reason
you can’t work through the problems and emerge with a stronger position
in your company and your career.
Book of the Week: Reclaiming
the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout by Dr. Steven Berglas