Last Wednesday I was working late with another woman in my department. A guy who works in another department stopped by, gave us both hugs (we work at a place where this is acceptable), and I remember thinking, this is weird, normally he doesn't hug me like this. But the conversation continues so I put it out of my mind, maybe he's just feeling extra friendly or lonely, those are reasons I would give someone a better hug than normal. I would also hug someone I liked, but I know he doesn't like me that way and believe he would be careful about doing anything that may lead me to think otherwise. A lot of my high school years were spent with girls who used me to try and get to my guy friends. Even if a guy wasn't my friend I could usually talk to guys and they would talk to me.
My interview came up in conversation, I was excited and wanted to share the feeling. He looked at me and said learning to fly would be hard. An obvious, but true statement. I agreed, if it was easy everyone would do it and it would be less of a challenge. His next words surprised me, he said I wasn't afraid. I gave him a cool look and nodded, there are risks and dangers associated with flying, but I'm not afraid to try. While we were standing there he said something about the double switch. This is a baseball term and it came at me like a low and inside pitch. The woman we were talking to is not a sports fan, and baseball season is over, so why was he bringing this up now? It didn't make sense to me and I like it when things people say make sense.
We were standing among the face and hair care products talking about flying and baseball, he wanted some moisturizer for his face so there were forays into that arena, but for the most part he was speaking my language. Then I wondered if he felt uncomfortable talking about products for his face, but I dismissed that idea because it didn't ring true. He left, I went back to work and forgot about the conversation until yesterday when it came up in a conversation with my manager. We were talking about people who wanted freebies, I brought up the moisturizer conversation since the woman I was with had handed him a tester that night. I wouldn't have done that, but I didn't challenge it, the deed was done and I didn't see the point in giving her my two cents.
My manager said that this guy was another person who hung around to see what he could score. All of a sudden I heard a click and puzzle pieces that had seemed abstract and random before fell into a precise orderly pattern. That guy had been extra nice to me because he wanted something. He went out of his way to flatter and pay attention to me and all of a sudden I could see his motivation clearly. Today I'm angry about that, at the time I was still processing things. He had to win me over because I was less likely than my fellow employee to hand a free product over and now I feel incredibly manipulated and disrespected. Had he come up and admitted he wanted something for free I would have respected that.
The majority of the time my manager is right about people. I trust her, but I also know that not everyone is right about everybody all the time, and she and I are different people so sometimes I like people she doesn't and vice versa. When we hired the woman who started the month after I did I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I tend to think others are like I am even though this is typically not the case. It is very easy for me to project things onto other people. I assumed that the new person was excited to be at work, would work hard for a manager who was exceedingly generous, and would be a true team player, sacrificing short term wants and comfort knowing that the longer term goals would only be reached by those types of strategies.
At first we were friends. My manager said two or three sentences during a conversation I wish I could have recorded. Today I know that she was right, but I had to learn the lesson for myself. She saw through this woman as if she had a microscope. She knows this woman better than she knows herself. But she let me do things my way because she realized that you can't tell me things and have me accept them as facts if there is a margin for error I can test myself. I wanted her to be my friend at work so I think I deliberately overlooked the way that things really were. At work I tend to focus on my job and miss a lot of things I don't personally encounter. I don't notice if someone is standing around because I'm doing the job I was hired to do.
Once I lose respect for someone it is typically permanent. I am a deep person and I don't value superficial things, people, or conversations. I value people who add to the organization where I work, I'm generally great at recognizing skill sets, we need a diverse set of people on our team for it to be stronger and better than the competition. I will deliberately seek out others who think differently than I do, or who work in a way I don't because a friend of mine once said that the power lies in the differences between partners (my paraphrase), and in my experience that has been true. I don't work best with people who are just like me, I work well with those who can teach me things I don't know, or have skills that complement mine.
This is why my manager and I are such an effective team. Hard workers inspire me to work harder and give more. I can walk into work, not know anything about what is going on, and since I start my day the same way I have a game plan regardless of what is happening around me. This kind of order and structure helps my manager. I look around to see what needs to be done, prioritize it, try to delegate where I can, this is frowned upon at work, but I still try to do it when I can because it is a healthy organizational behavior. It makes sense to give work to people who are standing around that reduces the workload of people who are overwhelmed with work.
We get a ton of free stuff at work in my department. My manager is one of the most incredibly generous people I have ever met. She has a strong sense of social justice, she looks for who is down or lacking and shares the wealth accordingly. The woman we hired next has a brain, but she uses it to get out of work just like her friend does. They work harder at getting out of work than they would if they accepted the responsibilities of the job and just did it. Part of my job is fun things like problem solving, organization, systems, and chatting with people, the other part is stocking shelves, cleaning, and trying to figure out how we are going to do more and more given less and less.
Hard work is satisfying to me as long as I feel rewarded when I'm done. Yesterday I worked very hard, we got a ton done, and it felt great to leave that day despite being exhausted by the time I got home. Something I've noticed is the woman we hired last can be assertive and confrontational when she talks to me, but lacks this skill in other interactions. I once read a terrific article on people who avoid responsibility. One of the strategies is to tell others you don't know. This can be true, it can also be a cop out. If you routinely act bewildered people will avoid going to you when they want things done. Even if you don't know things, sometimes life requires us to figure them out. This is typically her strategy, she shrugs her shoulders, acts frightened, perplexed, and leaves a note explaining she didn't know what to do.
I have a book about accountability that made a difference in how I live my life. I'm accountable and responsible for my own actions. When I tell people I don't know things I really don't, unless it is someone who is using a lack of knowledge to avoid dealing with a situation. Then I tell them that I don't know either and hand the problem back to them. This is a fairly recent skill and I'm proud of myself for acquiring it because I spent decades in a marriage where it was my job to figure out how to do things neither of us knew how to do. Working with these women is like being back in my marriage. They are selfish, lazy, greedy, manipulative, passive aggressive, whiny, self absorbed, and pretend like things are just fine when we face each other.
Obviously I am part of the problem here. Initially I tried to be more communicative. That lasted until the day that one of these women tried using my past mental health history against me. She put her hand on my arm, gave me this pleading look, and told me she wished I could go back to the mental hospital and take six months off to get things figured out. Whatever she said after that was lost on me. All of a sudden I was afraid and I'm pretty sure that was a calculated move on her part. She knows how to attack people where they are weak, but in this case she had chosen foolishly. I know I am much healthier mentally than I had been. I kind of smiled through my terror and told her work was a very positive thing in my life and left it at that.
She does things like that periodically. Tells me that she worries about me, possibly she does, but I feel as if that were truly the case she would do things like ask what would help me, or give her the sort of support and encouragement that my manager does, the type that I give to other people. I'm a gift giver and they abused my generosity so now others get what they had been given in the past. I can't fake my feelings. I can't pretend we get along when we don't. I can be polite, but it will be the sort of chilly and remote interaction that doesn't tend to make people feel good about themselves. This is self protection mode and I enter it whenever I feel threatened, bullied, or intimidated. They can't touch me, they can't make me cry, their girl tricks aren't working on me, they can't figure me out, and I'm grateful for that.
It's them against me and I understand their side to a point. I am difficult to work with and so is my manager. We're extremely capable, I have a great deal of self confidence, I'm smart, I work hard, and I'm visionary so I can see beyond the here and now. I can turn on the charm when I meet others I feel deserve it, but I can never try to charm anyone who disrespects me. They could try and apologize, but unless they bring an entirely new work ethic and attitude to the job, it's going to fall flat. Being sorry means you take steps to prevent having to apologize in the future. They aren't willing to do that. I've forgiven them, but the repeated behaviors add up and their way of coping is to tell others what a bitch me and my manager are. I am frosty when work that should get done, doesn't.
There's a difference between isolated incidents and seeing the same pattern over and over again. We all have bad days, there are times when I haven't done my job to the best of my ability, and there are many more times when I have gone above and beyond because I have a lot of work related pride. I don't care what the task entails, nothing is beneath my boss. Last night she emptied the paper towel bin in the women's bathroom. Not many people at work do things like that. I don't. She sees a job that needs to be done, and if she can do it, she does. Sometimes she does this a little too much in my opinion, I wish her standards were more contagious. She expects a lot out of others, but she expects more out of herself, furthermore she gives you the tools, rest, and rewards I need to succeed.
Going forward not much will change. They see me as the problem and to be fair to them I am a part of it. But if you are not doing the job you were hired to do that is your problem. I would say I'm about 20% of the problem. I work very part time, most of the issues happen when I'm not there, I hear about them when I return. The other day I spent my morning working on returns. This is money we could get back for products we can't sell. Everyone knows they need to be done and everyone knows how to process them. I left three products off to the side and one in the bin. I cleaned out the bin, the products that had fallen behind the bin, and off to the other side. The products I left are still sitting there and the pile has grown. Money we could be getting back is sitting in a drawer because people are too lazy to make one phone call.
I take it personally when people try to get out of work. I wasn't feeling the greatest on Tuesday. Work is dry, my throat gets sore, and when I work I put myself on the line. My manager is the same way, and if you're not used to working like that it is going to be very difficult for you to get along with people who have those expectations and standards. Maybe it is just pills and protein powders. I take pride in what I do. My manager had an interesting observation, after I left she was the person who had to pick up where I had left off, there was an order that arrived and I could have stayed to finish it, but she told me to go and I knew I would feel better if I got something to drink so I left.
For once in my life I'm admitting that I can't solve this problem, or more to the point, I'm wasting energy if I do. They are the way they are, I'm the way I am, and there's not a lot of room for compromise or negotiation since I'm not going to lower my standards and it doesn't sound as if they have the capacity or willingness to raise theirs. It's actually a very sad situation, I deal with it intellectually. There's nothing I can do to help people who don't want the kind of help I can give. They want emotional support and the people coming to me for that are asking for something I have a very hard time giving. That isn't me being bitchy, that's like asking me for money I don't have. My emotional reserves are low and I don't tend to connect with people emotionally even when I love and respect them although there are a few exceptions.
I can be supportive, I can be encouraging, I can notice what others do well, and share that with them, but I cannot fake empathy, and see no point in trying. I can learn to be more empathetic, but it doesn't come naturally to me, and I'm mostly okay with that. I can't meet every need others have and it isn't smart to drain myself trying. I can solve many problems, but my approach is almost never empathetic. I don't have empathy for myself and until I learn how to do that it isn't going to flow from me to others. If that makes me cool and reserved, so be it. I can only do what I can do, they can only do what they can do, and I don't have to get along with everyone at work. Too bad because I have a deep need for harmony, but when you mess with my mind and probe those shadows, I don't trust you and need to protect myself.
Not the cheeriest thing I've ever written, but I'm glad I explored it. I feel fairly calm, like someone who has gone to a physician and found out that things were simultaneously much worse and a lot better than I thought that they were. I had so much fun working with my manager last night. That's the experience I wish others could have. Where you strategically and methodically attack the layers of ridiculousness at work and strip them off one by one. I felt so good about the time I spent with her last night and I know she's extremely grateful that I'm willing to do things like pick the dirtiest shelf in our department, take everything off, wipe it down, and replace items. Not the sexiest thing I've ever done for a living, but that sense of closure and completion is lovely.
Until next time,
P.S. I work with some incredible people. I didn't even get to an incident I had on my list, but that will keep.