Roughly six years ago, while working at my previous employer, I asked one of the technology leaders, who was probably having a bad day, why we don’t have a tech playground so that technologists like us can innovate. He answered, “If you want a playground, find another job.” That statement hit me hard and confused me. Why would a leader push against innovation? Yet, I stayed with the company for a couple more years. I did not give up on innovation. I kept refining the ideas and gained support from the leaders who helped create a productive ecosystem in the company.

I realized how important is the context in any discussion with leadership. The leader probably misunderstood my intent, and I did a terrible job using the term playground instead of more familiar terms like “R&D” (research and development), “MVP” (minimum viable product), or “prototype.” Also, even if “innovation playground” is appropriate, innovative playing is not enough. I later learned this leader wants to ensure that projects are financed appropriately and have the right ROI. Hence, some leaders only fully understand a digital playground for fun, even though some other companies encourage employees to take some time during work to experiment with new ideas.

Sometimes, we receive specific messages that can be hard to take at the job. As leaders, we must also be conscious when doing the same. Yet, the power is turning negative messages into powerful ones that can make us do better. I used the opportunity to learn from the situation, avoid a knee-jerk reaction, and improve my messages, both sending new ones and decoding the receiving ones.