How was I supposed to know?
I wanted to cover one of my office walls with shiplap. The piece I chose was a 1x8x12. I did the math and told my husband, Jeremy, we’d need 16 pieces of wood shiplap boards.
Now some of you already know how this story is going to end. For those of you who are as clueless with wood as I was a month ago, however, let me continue.
I spent a weekend trimming, painting, and touching up the shiplap (which is incredibly tedious, and I was thrilled when it was finally done).
Jeremy started prepping the wall, paused for a moment, and then asked me, “How did you calculate 16 pieces of shiplap?”
Ok. Now I may not be very competent when it comes to home improvement projects, but I can do basic math.
“The wall is 124 inches. Divide that by 8. Round up. That’s 16 pieces.”
And then he said the words that still blow me away.
“But a 1×8 board is only 7 ¼ inches wide. You’re two short.”
Um, what? Since when! What kind of insane system calls something a 1×8 when it is only 7 inches wide? (Apparently, a 2×4 isn’t a 2×4 either. It’s only 1.5×3.5!) This is ridiculous. How was I supposed to know this?!
Jeremy, to his credit, listened to my rant and acknowledged that he should’ve checked to see if I knew how measuring worked. Apparently, this is just common knowledge. If you regularly purchase wood, that is.
What’s common knowledge for you?
This idea of common knowledge doesn’t just show up in the lumber section of Home Depot.
During a Thoughtfully Fit training a few weeks ago, a manager was sharing how frustrated she was when a colleague knocked on her door as she was talking to an executive. “She could see through my window that I was talking to someone. Obviously, that’s not the time to knock on my door.”
Another manager shared her annoyance when an employee comes to her with a problem, but doesn’t offer any solutions. “Do you want me to do your job for you? Who comes to their supervisor without at least thinking of what some possible next steps would be?”
And my favorite example from a few years back which I still think about…. A coaching client was sharing his frustration that his employees weren’t sending him “quality work.” He used the phrase so many times I finally asked him how he defines quality work. He said, “Well it starts with 12-point Arial font. Everyone knows that’s the only font you should be using in a professional setting.”
Now in all of these cases, we could discuss the merits of each of these statements. But that’s not the point. In each case, these managers considered it common knowledge. But they never told their employees what they wanted. They thought everyone already knew. This common knowledge wasn’t common at all.
How were their employees supposed to know?
Thoughtfully Fit Core Workout
So the next time you find yourself frustrated that someone doesn’t have the common knowledge you think they should, try this workout.
Pause: Take a moment, and give the person the benefit of the doubt.
Think: What’s the assumption you’re making? In other words, what’s the standard you’re holding people to that they might not even know?
Act: Have the necessary conversation so everyone’s on the same page.
This workout aligns with the Thoughtfully Fit practice of Balance, or achieving alignment. What you see as common knowledge, might not be at all to someone else. So, have the conversation! Let them know what you’re expecting and then get aligned on how to move forward. Just like my shiplap project, your colleagues might not even know they’re coming up short unless you tell them.