February 8, 2011 by Marj Hatzell
I have a friend who really, really, REALLY needed to vent and so she asked me if I’d post this here for her to, you know, get it out there so she can vent and stuff. Now, I totally didn’t write this. Really, I didn’t. So, if you think you know who it is, please do me a favor? DO NOT SPEAK OF IT! First rule of Blog Club is you DO NOT TALK ABOUT BLOG CLUB. Also? Tyler Durden is a dweeb. Ahem. Anyways, without further ado: Guest Post. And be sure to give her hugs in the comments, she needs ’em, yo.
THIS IS A TEST
My new boss is challenging. And since my job knows I blog (and my boss is local, and we likely have acquaintances in common), the wonderful Domestic Goddess is letting me vent my spleen anonymously here. (Thank you, dear DG!) I don’t know how much of my reaction is truly due to the current situation and how much is due to Traumas of Crazy Bosses Past. I can’t get any perspective.
In an incredibly fast-paced, stressful work environment, my boss delights in playing “gotcha” when something gets missed or an error is made. Now, I have plenty to learn (still, after 10 months here) about this job, and I’m human and therefore make mistakes. Shiz happens. I’m completely willing to own my mistakes and limitations. But (and this is an important but), ANYONE doing the job I’m trying to do under the conditions I’m doing it is going to miss things, make mistakes, and fail to mind-read the boss exactly. Which lead to yesterday morning.
A surprise issue came up on Friday that I immediately brought to my boss’s attention. When I suggested a proactive plan of action, she essentially told me to stick a pin in it and move on, but that another staff member might be able to shed some light. I reached out to the other staff member, and he was able to clarify 3 out of 4 points of the surprise. So Monday morning I reported this back to my boss and suggested a proactive approach for point #4. And I got snapped at: “We talked about this on Friday; I don’t want you spending time on it.”
I left her office feeling like an idiot. What had I missed? Did I really either not remember or misinterpret some vaguely worded instruction? As has happened many, many times in the last few months, I began to internalize the criticism and the familiar voices of self-doubt began to whisper. I’ve written before about what a trigger it is for me to feel misunderstood or misinterpreted, and being scolded for something that may not have been my fault hooks right into those insecurities.
I stewed for ten minutes or so, and then decided to confront the situation. She’s not a bad person, my boss, just moody as hell. She is also under an unspeakable amount of job stress herself – take my situation and double it, easily. There are days that we have a very convivial working relationship. When I had a little breakdown in her office a few weeks ago (in reaction to non-work stresses), she was very supportive and sweet, and I know that in professional situations she appreciates a straight-forward approach.
So I stuck my head in her office and asked if she had a minute. I explained that yes, we talked about this situation on Friday, but it wasn’t clear to me that her position was that it wasn’t worth my spending my time; that she had conveyed not wanting me to actively pursue it, but not her reasons. I said that I felt as though I just got scolded for not knowing something that … I didn’t know because it hadn’t been explained. My cool was beginning to waiver juuuuuuuust a touch, so I concluded by simply saying, I find this a difficult situation.
Her immediate reaction was to defend her non-proactive position in this circumstance, which wasn’t really my point. But I let her talk for several minutes about how with so many major issues to address, I shouldn’t be wasting my time on this side issue. That in a perfect world, being proactive would be fine, but that we don’t have that luxury right now. I agreed with her 100% and told her that the problem I was having was with the communication style, not the substance.
I didn’t get anything like an apology, though she did say at one point that her intention was not to scold, but to “teach” – to adjust my thinking and priorities into alignment with hers, essentially. I responded that I’m well aware that often the way she conveys information to me is intended to mold my thinking, but that sometimes it’s not entirely clear what she’s after. The conversation petered out from there, and I expected that the rest of the day would be tense and anxious.
Instead, my anxiety seemed to lift somewhat and I found myself achieving a very-welcome (albeit minor) sense of detachment. My self-esteemed lifted a notch or two. And I actually got some productive work done, which is oftentimes a challenge. In addition, my boss seemed to go out of her way to bestow some friendly conversation my way, as if extending a small olive branch.
I know I’m not out of the woods. I had anxiety dreams about work last night and woke up before the alarm with a mental to-do list playing in my head. The emotions around this situation feel a little like bullying to me, and I don’t know whether to trust that reaction. I’ve worked in some truly abusive situations, early in my career when I didn’t know any better or how to stand up for myself, and there are some similarities. But I also value the opportunity I’ve been given, which is to raise my personal bar significantly and grow professionally in ways that I haven’t had in a long time. Plus, y’know, I need to work.
What do you all think of the situation? I need to find a way to detach from the crap that really doesn’t have to do with me, but I know I’ll continue to find that difficult. What would you do in my place?