A Manager, a Troll, and the Power of Mistakes

By Jessica Speas posted 05-14-2022 10:38

Cave Troll

There’s an image of a troll taped to the door of my basement office, or “The Cave,” as it’s known around the practice. On the surface, the troll and the place name are cute little jokes about my subterranean workspace. But the story of the troll goes much deeper than that. It is a reminder of a very difficult episode early in my career – one that put me on a path to improving how I deal with people.

About a dozen years ago, when I was younger and greener, I received an expletive-filled message from a fake email address that I’m almost certain was created by an ex-employee. The email went on about what a terrible person I am – that I was a troll who belonged in a cave and suggested that I go spelunking.

I know I’m not a terrible person, but those words hurt. The cartoon troll went on my office door the very next day – at first, just an attempt to use humor to lighten my own mood.

After the initial sting of that email wore off, I realized I needed to re-examine the way I had handled everything with the former employee. I concluded that while the steps I took were the necessary ones, my communication about what was happening and why could have been clearer. I decided to make a conscious effort to be clearer and more transparent, to explain more fully why decisions were being made or changes were being implemented.

I practice this almost daily – lately, I’m communicating a lot about scheduling. We are short-staffed – shocking, I know! – and I have to make the schedule work for everyone. I verbalize that. I acknowledge that everyone is tired of covering extra shifts and the seemingly constant shuffling of shifts, but if no one is able to work, the entire practice will be disrupted and make things worse for everyone. I can’t make one or two people happy if it is going to mess things up for the rest of the team, and I share what the impact would be, while also working with everyone to find the time they can take off.

I recently read an article, “Using ‘D-E-A-R M-A-N” to Get What You Want,” by Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC, that sums up the importance of using effective communication to ask for what we want or need and receive it – or a workable compromise – without alienating others. It uses the acronym D.E.A.R.M.A.N., a mnemonic device developed by the University of Washington Professor Emeritus Dr. Marsha Linehan, as a reminder of communication steps: Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, (Stay) Mindful, Appear Confident. The article put into succinct words many of the things I aim to do when communicating.

Communication was the first area I focused on, but “the troll incident” was a turning point in my career. It led me to consciously think about the kind of manager I wanted to be and to regularly look for places to improve. It launched the journey of professional development and continuous improvement that I will always be on.

Every day when I arrive at work, my door troll makes me realize that as hard as I try, I will sometimes make mistakes. But it also reminds me that without my mistakes, I wouldn’t be the manager – or the person – I am now.

Jessica Speas, CVPM, SPHR, PHR-ca, SHRM-SCP, CCFP
VHMA President






06-05-2022 07:40

Great story.

05-27-2022 09:09

I love this story.  Thank you for sharing such a personal moment with us.
It is through our mistakes that we learn how to be better. 
It's a never ending journey of learning.   
I'm happy I have VHMA, and many amazing colleagues to lend me a road map along the way.  
Andi Lance