Everyone Matters

The behaviour you walk past…

By Altitude Advisory |

Have you ever looked back on a moment and wished that you could have done more? Altitude Advisory Director, Andrew Mattner recently had an uncomfortable experience that left him feeling regretful and disappointed with himself. Continue reading to find out his valuable lesson.

I recently had an uncomfortable experience that left me feeling regretful and disappointed with myself.

I was at the dentist having some major dental work done. After waiting in the waiting room for 20 minutes or so I was greeted by a somewhat shy and uncertain young dental nurse. She asked me to follow her to the dentist operatory. As best she could she tried to make small talk with a 46-year-old entrepreneur who was on a tight schedule and really had 1000 places he’d rather have been than sitting in a dental chair. I could tell she was new and was just trying to find her way.

Eventually, the dental surgeon (who will remain nameless) arrived. I had seen this guy a few times but had never really warmed to his chairside manner. He had an arrogant and condescending way about him, like he was better than everyone else, and he wanted you to know that.

As I sat there having my teeth scanned, he regularly dressed this young dental nurse down in a way that was uncomfortable for everyone but him. “Don’t do this.” “Don’t do that.” “Not that tool, that tool.” “That’s not how you mix it, give it here, I’ll do it myself.”

It was clear that she was inexperienced and still learning. It was also clear that with every barb and with every “sorry” she whispered; her confidence sank just a little bit deeper.

As the dentist was waiting in another room to see if my X-Rays had met the required standard, I had opportunity to talk to this girl. I asked if she was OK. She nearly burst into tears. She explained that she was a trainee and had only been at work for 3 weeks in her first job. She confessed that she didn’t know what she was really supposed to be doing but was trying hard to learn and impress her new employer. She apologised to me if she hadn’t done a great job. I said to her that I was fine, and I understood how hard it was in your first job. I also apologised to her for the behaviour of the dentist and expressed to her that I didn’t think it was ok for him to behave like he did. I encouraged her to be brave and to stand up for herself. I encouraged her to ask questions and to ask for help if she needs it. I told her that this is how she would learn and how she would gain the respect and confidence of her teammates and her new boss. I didn’t stop to think for a minute that she might not know how to do that!

What I didn’t do was call out the bad behaviour of the dentist. I knew the way he was acting was inappropriate, yet I turned a blind eye. I should have eye balled him and told him that I thought the way he treated this young trainee was not ok. But I didn’t. I am embarrassed and I’m sorry that I didn’t.

They say the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept. By not calling out the behaviour I effectively told the dentist that I thought how he acted was acceptable. I didn’t stand up when I should have which highlighted to me, that as a leader, I still have a long way to go in my development.

One of the key traits of a good leader is that you stand for others when they can’t stand for themselves, regardless of the consequence to you. I didn’t show her how to stand up for herself and be brave. I didn’t teach her anything meaningful. I just shared a few hollow words of experience. I let that young girl down. I didn’t stand to be counted when I should have, and I sincerely apologise.

By Andrew Mattner
Director, Altitude Advisory
(08) 8172 1444

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