Career Power-UpCareer Skills

Are You ‘Too Close to Your Subject’?

By Paige Kassalen

I recently received some constructive feedback on a task I had completed, and immediately started feeling frustrated. The feedback was warranted, but I was frustrated because this was a recurring task, and I felt that the person offering the criticism did not understand all that went into the request they made.

Their request was not something they could expect such a quick turnaround time for, so I wondered why they kept asking for it so last minute.

Then, I realized… that person really did not understand all that went into the task. But how could they?

They might have been looking for me to push back or communicate some limitations, but I never thought to do that. I forgot that this was a subject that I was extremely close to, but the requester was not.

We’ve all heard of the idea of maybe being “too close to” our subject before, but usually it’s in relation to compiling a final report or struggling to shift gears if a project priority changes. I’ve learned that there are many subjects in our professional lives that we are too close to, and we should remember to take a step back and find ways for stronger communication.

Here are some workplace reminders for times where you might be too close to your subject:

Your manager might not remember your skills or experiences, so remind them

I have been in many situations where someone will start explaining something that I have a relatively good amount of experience in. This can feel patronizing, but it is typically unintentional.

If there is one subject that you are too close to, it is yourself. You are the only person who knows all your skills and experiences, and you need to find ways to communicate those skills and experiences effectively to get the chance to use them.

Your manager will see your resume maybe once while you are interviewing for a job, so you can’t rely on them remembering every detail.

A manager will be the one advocating for you to get certain opportunities, so it is critical to find the optimum way to communicate your skills and experiences to ensure success and fulfilment in the organization.

A process you are expected to follow may not make sense, so question it

I was leading a project and the client asked us to start sending them an end-of-the-week report. We also had weekly meetings, and would follow up the meeting with a summary email. By the time the end of the week came around, I usually copied and pasted information I had already shared twice.

After a few weeks, I stopped and thought “this does not make sense.” I sent an email to the client explaining how the same information was being shared three times during the week, and they completely agreed the additional report was unnecessary.

When you are so close to a subject, you can easily spot the inefficiencies, but remember that anyone who is not as close will not.

You are always allowed to do a “gut check” and ask the questions of the requester to see if they are aware of inefficiencies. Sometimes there might be a good reason for following a certain process, and this becomes a learning opportunity. Other times, a process might have made sense at one point, but as work progressed, certain steps may no longer be necessary.

Each team has a different set of “wins,” so remember to share them

A colleague was once telling me about how they were feeling unmotivated. Of course, this happens to everyone, but I struggled to understand their feelings because our company just received very exciting news.

Then, I realized that that person was not in the meeting. I was super energized because my team just had a massive “win,” but I was so close to the subject that I forgot it was not common knowledge for everyone.

Every team is playing a role in the company’s success and every team, therefore, has a different set of day-to-day priorities and “wins” that should be celebrated. Communicating each team’s “wins” boosts the company culture because everyone understands the value of their work. Plus, no one hates opportunities to celebrate!

Being too close to your subject is inevitable, so it’s important to find ways to take a step back and strategically communicate information to help yourself and your organization thrive.

Remembering that your manager might not remember all your skills and experiences is the first step in making sure they have the information needed to be your number one advocate. Questioning a process your team has been following will reduce organizational inefficiencies and free up time for more high-value work. Finally, sharing your team’s “wins” will ensure your entire company stays energized and understands how their work is contributing to the bigger picture!

Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post. After Solar Impulse, Kassalen has helped Covestro and JPMorgan Chase develop and implement strategies to embrace a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now uses her problem-solving skills at an artificial intelligence startup, CrowdAI, where she leads the implementation of computer vision solutions for existing commercial customers.

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