Mind what is not said

Less than a month ago I moved to Rome in order to do an internship in Italian NGO that deals primarily with human rights of detainees in Italy. This is their most important activity, but they also have many other projects and are always very busy. After a couple of days of work I was assigned to one of the employees to help him with eight reports: one was ours and the other seven came from seven NGOs of other EU States. The reports were the answers to a questionnaire that was given to each NGO partner on the topic of alternatives to detention in their own country.

My first task was to find out what each partner had written, what was missing and what wasn’t clear; also, I had to give a title to each paragraph and to each table that didn’t have any. The titles had to be the same for each report so that a reader who wanted to compare a particular aspect in two different countries only had to find the same title. So, first of all I decided the titles that could have fitted all reports, then, as I had seen that the reports were very different one from the other, I figured that I had to be able to compare them with one simple look. I am usually very precise in what I do and I always work with some kind of order (the same does’t apply to my room or to my stuff though) and this time I decided to make a huge excel table with all my notes for each title. My boss was sometimes checking on me and helping me with the things I didn’t know (such as weird data numbers and stuff like that), but wasn’t looking in detail how I was doing what I was supposed to do. After I finished this first task I wanted to show him the things that we should have asked to our partners because in my opinion they weren’t clear. He sat next to me, saw my notes on the big excel sheet, and was startled, then he asked me what the different colors meant and I explained him. He said nothing. Then I quickly focused on the things that were to be made clear and I really tried to keep it short and clear because I knew he had a lot things to do. He told me how to solve all the issues I had found and gave me the second task to do: to work on the layout of the reports. He then went back to his desk to do his stuff. I already had a layout from some other reports to copy and I tried to make it as similar as possible. While I was working I was still wondering wether he had liked the way I had worked and if the results were those that he had expected. However, I figured that if he hadn’t liked it, he would have probably said something. Still, it was a weird feeling not to know because I came from experiences where every time I did something good, people told me: “Awesome! Good job!” Still, I decided to hold my horses, didn’t ask anything and went on with my work.

The following day I finished the layout of the first report and I showed it to him. He said: “Yes, I like how it looks. Make them like this one.” “Sure!” I answered, and went on. Then some hours later he asked me out of the blue: “When are you finishing the internship here?” It was in that precise moment that I understood that he had liked my work. I understood it from the way he said it, not from the sentence itself because it could have also meant the opposite things. So I realized that in the real world of “grown-up people” (yes, that’s how I call it) no one tells you that you did a good job and the only way to understand it is by paying attention to what is not said.
And this was a huge Lesson Learned from my internship!

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