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What's the Call, Ref!?

Imagine you’re having a conversation with a colleague about an upcoming project. During the conversation, you start to discuss who is responsible for what in the project. You recall one thing, your colleague recalls another. You each refer to your notes; neither set of notes is crystal clear on the matter, but your colleague’s notes indicate that they have become a champion at reading the moment and jotting down the most relatable Bill Murray quote from memory. Truly remarkable.


Who took the minutes? Let’s ask them. Well, it says both will “work on” the project. Everyone agrees there was some discussion about specific roles, but the details don’t show up in anyone’s notes.


Wouldn’t it be great if they could go back to the moment, fire up the machine, and watch that part of the meeting on an instant replay? There would be no confusion, no misunderstanding, and no icky human error.


Even with all of the advanced technologically that has made its way into professional sports, the games are still refereed by humans. The humans sometimes have technology to support them. The most famous and infamous is the instant replay. It seems that with all of those camera angles and quality of images, there would be no more missed calls.


Talk to any sports fan about one of their team’s losses to see if instant replay is The Answer.


Often times, the instant replay needs to produce strong enough evidence to overturn the call that was made during play; otherwise, the call that the human made in the moment stands. Even after all of the years of game play, use of technology, and iterations, it is still impossible to predict and account for exactly where every camera will need to be and where the call-in-question will occur. Yet, we still think about it as a definitive go-to after a conflict.


Issues with instant replay include, but are not limited to: camera angle, number of cameras, image quality, and obstructions between the lens and subject to name a few. If objective cameras have such a hard time, how are people supposed to fare? In the case of sports, even if the opposing fans are super-duper upset, usually, the call from the game officials is eventually accepted and the game goes on. Occasionally, there’s quite a mess that goes on for days in sports media, maybe even national news if it was messy enough. But over time, the emotion dwindles.


Without data, consider ALL of the calls made in ALL of professional sports. How many good or inconsequential calls are made compared to the number of bad calls or calls that likely lead to a different game outcome? Seems that the scales are heavily favoring good and indifferent.


Even if we had instant replay at work, would it tell the whole story? No. There’s no way it would be a guaranteed definitive answer to every question. This means we’re left with…


Human judgment, trust, and just letting it go.


Who had what assignment on the project? After 30 minutes on the topic, no one knows any more than they did in the beginning. Option A) Keep discussing it until someone somewhere remembers something and has definitive proof to support it or, Option B) Make a decision and move on.


When we can trust one another to use our judgment, we’ve got a pretty reasonable work environment. This will never happen when there is fierce competition for promotions, raises, or even to curry favor with the boss. A culture where one another is supportive and helpful absolutely helps everyone thrive.


The other problem with the instant replay daydream is that it removes responsibility from adults to act like adults. Part of being a gainfully-employed grown-up is to negotiate things. Big things. Important things. Like being able to put your lunch in the community fridge WITHOUT your name on it and still have all of the lunch parts present when you go to enjoy it later. Like being able to adjust your schedule to make room for a colleague’s non-work-related appointment because it’s the right thing to do, not to leverage it against them later.


Some folks want an answer. They don’t want to make a decision or even discuss an outcome. People asking for the answer may not want the responsibility of making the wrong decision. They may not feel qualified to decide the outcome. In an environment where they aren’t yelled at or blamed for making a bad call, they can learn and do better next time with a better understanding of how to proceed. It’s learning and everyone should have the opportunity to do it.


The professional game officials are flawed humans like we all are. They’re not perfect at their job, but they’re pretty dang good. It’s not by accident. Not one of them graduated high school and instantaneously became a professional referee. It takes time, requires a lot of learning, and requires (yes, requires) a lot of mistakes and corrections.


There’s no instant replay at work. Assuming that everyone wants to get to the best outcome is a great place to start. Some folks will disagree and go tooth-and-nail for “what’s theirs” at work. Maybe that approach will work; maybe it will be the express route to “exploring different career paths.” Most of us will understand that the world of working with humans is imperfect, frustrating, ambiguous, and sometimes, tiring. Working with humans can also be engaging, enlightening, fascinating, and invigorating.


But there is no instant replay. There’s no one coming to the rescue for each of our conflicts. We’re going to have to use everything we learned in Adulting 101 and come to an agreement with a fellow human and move forward. Use our best judgment, trust, and after the decision has been made, let it go.


Photo by Nathan Shively on Unsplash

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