A few months ago I started a new part time job in order to pay some bills while I wait for this website, my other website and my book writing career to take off and begin their respective meteoric rises toward fame and fortune (Hint: click on the damn adverts, people!). It's a job within an industry I am familiar with, although the role itself has never been an area of specialization for me. In truth, the role itself is quite mundane and repetitive, and without a great deal of responsibilty; the kind of job I can come home from and forget about...this is perfect, I haven't had one of those - ever! I work only one or two shifts each week at the moment, and I am still trying to get into good habits - it's not difficult work but being away for almost two weeks at a time on occasion doesn't help to get routines established quickly. In short: I'm a stinky new boy.
HOWEVER! I am NOT some spotty-faced kid who has still got one hand on my mum's apron strings (I never did have) - au contraire; I have been fortunate enough to amass a great deal of life experience in positions of high responsibility and in an enormous variety of circumstances. I've seen and lived a lot of life. I haven't just been around the block a few times, I've been around the whole city hundreds of times. This seems to have been something that my not-so-erstwhile young (as in: approximately half my age) colleague cannot grasp.
Things came to a head a couple of weeks ago, and after being on the receiving end of yet another condescending, patronizing and unnecessary comment from this young woman, my patience finally gave out. I didn't shout; I didn't even raise my voice, nor did I stand up (she is short and round). I deliberately sat in my chair while she stood, and I calmly pointed out the way she has, for some four months, been relating to me, and how that in turn, tends to influence how I regard her. It was an adult interaction during which I expressed my dismay at the way in which she chose to speak to me, the FACT that I would never drop her in the brown smelly stuff (as I know she HAS done to others), my hope that we could re-start our working relationship so that it could be cordial and professional, and my desire to keep the conversation as a confidential matter between ourselves.
The latter consideration was, I thought, a way for us to keep between us the fact that during my (genuinely calm, considered) feedback, she burst into tears and remained wracked with sobs for the next ten minutes. Her reaction was (in my experience of thirty years in the workplace) frankly outlandish, and, I supposed, probably embarrassing to her if it ever got out. So, I suggested that we move forward and try to work together in a way that was more equitable and reflective of the fact that we are peers. She agreed to do so. Despite the fact that the conversation had made me late to collect my teenaged son from his job, I hung around to make sure that she was emotionally stable enough to continue her shift alone. When she was able to give me suitable assurances that she was fine, I duly left for home, rather dismayed at her reaction to what amounted to me saying "Stop talking to me like a piece of shit.". I felt depressingly sure that she would not respect our agreement to keep the matter between ourselves (I had not spoken about the issue to anyone else leading up to this point), but then I felt sad about not placing my trust in her.
Imagine my feelings, then, to find out two days ago while working alongside my boss, that she had reported the conversation to him. Sometimes, being right about someone can be SO disappointing. I would have loved to have been wrong about this person, but I wasn't. Not only does she have very few communication skills, she cannot be trusted to keep her word.
How does life work for such people?
How do they go through life unable to communicate effectively?
How do they get to a place where honesty and transparency is threatening?
How do they cope with life when they struggle to be honest?
How do they survive in the world by throwing other people under the bus (in my case, unsuccessfully) and not having retribution catch up with them?
HOW do people with these habits get through their days and weeks?
No matter how we live, we leave behind us an impression of ourselves among the people we interact with. I've made plenty of mistakes over the years, and there are things that I can look back upon with only one metaphorical eye open, and which make me wince when I do so. However, I do reflect on such mistakes in an effort to not repeat them and to move on from them with lessons learned. I very much wish that the ability to reflect and develop was not something that increasingly seems to be in such short supply, that so many people under the age of thirty didn't seem to regard the world as something to be challenged in a nasty, obnoxious way that alienates others. The same people seem incapable of picking up hints that the strategy they are using is not working very well.
In my short time in my new job, I have apparently (according to my boss's boss) sent positive shockwaves through the workplace regarding how I treat people uniformly with respect and communicate effectively and skilfully while remaining approachable and friendly (yes, it's true!). It's nice to get that kind of feedback and it is the result of all the years that I have spent developing myself to the point where this is how I behave quite automatically. Despite being generally happy with the way I have learned to do things, I think that there is still something (and probably more) that I would benefit from becoming proficient at: making it clear from the outset of a professional relationship that I am no longer in the business of taking any shit. It took me four months to lose my patience with this person - maybe I need to get myself a shorter fuse and start being more blunt, much earlier.