The Positive Stories Project (TPSP)

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I had breakfast with an old friend this morning. He asked me about work and I just unloaded everything. I think I was just so relieved to have someone I could speak with about it that even though I could hear myself and the red flags popped up that the content was a little heavy for this reintroduction, I just didn’t stop.

 

slide 2By the time we parted, I apologized, because I knew that it was wrong, I just couldn’t seem to control the impulse to talk about it, and he confirmed my fears by saying, well maybe the next time I see you we can chat you’ll have some more positive stories to share. And I felt sick. I knew I was being kind of a downer. I kept apologizing for doing it, but it was like word vomit. I couldn’t make myself stop. Actually, the truth is, that I did make it stop, but the next time I opened my mouth again to talk about something else, I kept referencing my own experience which only reinforced my anxiety and made me more nervous.

That’s not good.

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As I walked away with this toxic pit in my stomach, I realized that I had poured so much energy into trying to work my way out of this negative experience that my whole identity had become wrapped up into it. I was either this person who felt like a victim in this scenario, or this person who was intentionally practicing these other coping behaviors because I didn’t want to feel like a victim in this scenario.

What I would have liked to have been, was this person who was able to charm and entertain others with these really awesome, inspiring and uplifting stories; and I honestly didn’t have any to tell, unless I talked about the really small stuff, the little everyday miracles that bore most people and make people want to find someone else to hang out with, someone who’s life is a little more exciting. So the little bits of info that my friend and I talked about didn’t have the same kind of emotional tags and we ended up chatting about the sucky parts of our stories because that’s the kind of energy I contributed.

So I made a decision to sit down at the coffee shop and sketch out a storyboard for what I imagined would be a really great story about me and my friend eating breakfast and me complaining the whole time, me having this realization, and then sitting down and drawing a comic strip for a segment I’d like to integrate into this blog called “The Positive Stories Project.”

slide 4I probably should have picked a different location, because I ran into some old friends who were visiting in town. They asked me what I was up to, how I liked my job, etc. and I made an effort to be positive. But my responses came across as kind of cryptic and weird. You could tell that I was giving kind of a manufactured answer, so they kind of automatically assumed the worst. Then I’d have to go, “well it’s not really that, I’ve had an opportunity to learn ___ from this experience.” And the conversation just kind of dragged on. So I kind of changed the subject and tried to make things as pleasant as I could, but my anxiety at “being found out” kept growing, so at the first opportunity, I ditched them for someone else (almost as if I had the opportunity for a do-over) and extended the appropriate pleasantries for exiting and that was kind of the end of it.

Ironically enough, the person I ditched them for, was there to meet up with the old friend I had just had breakfast with, so I kept the pleasantries simple, briefly explained why I would not be able to hang with them (I was honest about having been kind of a downer earlier since it was someone who was already kind of familiar with my situation and she was super supportive and understanding about it. – She even offered to take our old friend to see her new dog so as to change the vibe for a moment). Then I bolted to the outdoor patio and buried my head in a book.

Speaking of irony, the chapter that I read was about how Inappropriate Self Interest leads to errors we believe will produce short-term gains but instead, produce long-term damage. Yeah, so that happened…

 

slide 5My old friend and other friend stopped briefly to greet me as if I hadn’t seen them earlier and I wished them a great outing and pretended to be deeply engrossed in the reading for my book. Then I read for awhile until I was distracted by an old acquaintance who I talked with about this moped he found on Craigslist that he hoped to buy. Then he asked me how I liked my job; he had recently seen me when he stopped by for information because he assumed that the job should be pretty cushy. I explained that it should be, but that I didn’t expect to be in the position much longer. And we talked a bit and he seemed pretty engaged, so I just kind of let him coax the story out. I felt better afterward, because I had done a better job of avoiding the details and put more of a positive spin on the story, abbreviating the negative parts with descriptions like “misaligned ethics,” “not on the same page when it comes to our operations process,” and my favorite statement, “the reality of working within conflicting boundary constraints, especially when you’re able to quantify it is that when you follow instructions and do what’s asked that when people get the results that they’ve asked for, the reality is that everyone ends up disappointed. Then we discussed whether it would be beneficial or detrimental to include a histogram graphing out the performance progressions/ regressions and how they correlated with the workers performance over the range of time in which the policies were re-structured.

It was a helpful conversation that was very solutions focused. I was obviously craving the need to have someone help me kind of work through it, but I was also kind of bummed that I had not followed through with my intention to publish my storyboard. I decided to change venues hoping that I might be able to find some inspiration with a change of scenery.

 

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Of all of the places to run into people, I found a slew of them on the scenic route home. I happen to live near the college where I went to school and it just so happens that some of the younger siblings of my old classmates were going to be graduating from college this weekend. So not only did I run into my old classmates, but also their very large families. It appears that they had all gathered down at the local park near the cross country trail and had begun to grill up burgers, chicken, etc. Now when I say large families, let’s just say that there were approximately 6 families there by the time I left, the largest had 12 immediate family members (which doesn’t include extended relatives). The next largest family had 9 of the 10 family members present and so on…

Interestingly enough, although I didn’t know their families well, I was the only one there who had stayed at each of their residences (mostly on account of my own family situation is rather complicated, and it creates a fair amount of anxiety to have to explain why I don’t go home for holidays to my friends parents, so I generally avoid family events unless someone has gone out of their way to invite me). Even so, I found myself going through the process of introducing parents at an event to which I hadn’t even been invited. So after the initial introductions and talking with some of the less assertive parents for a bit, I eventually excused myself and made a ghost retreat before too many people noticed.

I felt bad for leaving, and probably would have benefitted from to social activity, especially where play was concerned. But for some reason it didn’t feel appropriate. Plus, some of the families were very different in values and I could see the tension building from some of the more conservative graduates, who were worried that one of her friend had arrived to the event in a very short mini skirt and was slightly inebriated. I actually heard one of the parents (not her own) tell her that her initial reaction was, “wow it’s impressive that you can pull that off, but what in the HELL are you wearing?” And that wasn’t even any of the more conservative parents.

So yeah, that’s right about the time that I left…

The good news is I didn’t talk about myself. It was nice to shift my attention elsewhere for once but I did get that overwhelming sensation that I was grossly out of practice. So I can definitely see some benefit toward using a project like the positive stories project as a mechanism to reinforce the behavior I would like to see. That being said I was able to achieve two outcomes as a result:

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1)      I actually completed a digital version of my storyboard (the dialogue boxes illustrate how much I feel like I dominated the conversation in each situation) and

2)      I completed the first step of my positive stories project by acknowledging what kind of energy I contributed toward those interactions and making a vigilant effort to correct it.

This doesn’t mean that I’m out of the woods, when it comes to my work life just yet. But as long as I have other things to focus on that are independent of that experience, I think that I can start to repair the impulse control portions that have apparently been damaged by internalizing all of this nonsense. And if these positive psyche theories are correct, I should go back to being a happier person again because of it.

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These were some ideas of things I could try for TPSP. I don’t have to be successful at them, I just have to try these out and try to turn it into a positive story. 🙂

 

Move over Bucky; I too want to make a good story…! 🙂

The Bully Tracker

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After much deliberation, I think I have opted to go with the Boss Tracker system.  There should be quite a few advantages to using the system including:

1) help me keep a record of my own responses (labeled “re:”) so that I have a record of efforts made to be accountable.

2) compile quick usage data using this simple documentation template to catalog this increasing trend in intimidating and antagonistic behavior

3) remove the need for hyper-vigilance so that I can reinvest my attention back toward creating a safe and positive workplace experience for my other staff.


The instructions for the template are as follows:

Just fill in the bubble in the appropriate time slot to indicate whether the interaction was positive, negative or neutral. Then indicate whether interaction was in person (IP), via phone (Tel) or via some other form of electronic communication (EC). And this should provide you a useful tool to keep yourself accountable for policy and ethical compliance when dealing with recurring challenges without hemorrhaging time needed to stay on task and provides a mechanism to directly address conflict in a way that’s more healthy and constructive.

But I may modify the format so that I can input the data electronically and eliminate the risk of leaving the paperwork lying around.  I wish someone would convert this into an app.

If I have any incidents occur in the next couple of weeks I can make a decision about whether I want to report it or not, depending upon how quickly things escalate.  Who knows, once I have a good body of evidence, I might even throw her a bone and let her know about the documentation (I’d have to digitally record that conversation to mitigate the liability risk though) so that she has the opportunity to correct the behavior on her own.

I’m pretty sure I’m protected by our company’s whistle blower policy.  So I may as well do what I can to protect my own reputation until I can gather enough evidence to hold management and the worker accountable for her behavior.

I’d really be doing both the employee and the organization a disservice if I didn’t do SOMETHING to try and ethically correct this behavior.

Frankly I’m more interested in putting a stop to the bullying and intimidation than in getting her into trouble.  So maybe, if she realizes that I am documenting her actions and that she actually will have to be responsible for her behavior the problem will correct itself.

Hopefully, now I’ll be able to give myself permission to breathe a little easier so I can focus my attention back on the aspects of my job that I enjoy.

I Would Rather …

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Today I came into work and found that my problematic worker had collapsed in front of my desk.  The person who was covering the shift before me thought that it might be a low blood sugar issue or dehydration since they were on a sports league together and the coach had been pushing them pretty hard.  But when I offered her assistance, she pretty willfully refused even though she couldn’t even hold herself up.  So next came the dilemma.  It is my responsibility, if she was in as bad a shape as she seemed to be to notify someone and get her medical attention.  If it turned out there was a problem and I didn’t intervene, that had one set of really daunting consequences.

But if it turned out that she was not that bad off but just using it as an excuse to be willful and melodramatic (which was plausible since her refusal of medical attention communicated to me that she was not in the state of mind to make decisions that best reflected what was in her best interest), there were another set of unfavorable consequences associated with making the call to force her to take medical attention and would divert resources away from people who really needed it.  So I quickly made a decision and pursued a third option.  I went and got someone else (someone that she trusted from management) to attend to her so that they could make the call.

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Three sips of water and a snickers bar later, she was fine and I went off to do work in another part of the building. When she saw me coming around the corner, she took off.  She came back to work later still in a pissy mood; only this time, she had an audience.

She’d brought another woman from her sports league.  I noticed that many of them had started acting weirdly around me at the gym, so I knew that my actions had been misrepresented by some form of malicious gossip, and they were constantly looking for some indication or behavior to confirm what they heard was true, but alas I hadn’t yet given them that satisfaction mostly because I just kept behaving consistently.

The worker camped out at a post in front of my cubicle and I sat back in the corner, which faces the wall and worked on something quietly.  Behind me I could hear discussion taking place about the impending deadline for labor contracts.  Rather than ask the person on duty, who she’d had a clash with, or any of the other people standing around on her shift where she could find the form (they were due that afternoon), she called across the cubicle to me.  I should probably note that I have nothing to do with that process, don’t receive input or emails regarding that aspect of our business, so any information I have I simply overhear.  …and I had just happened to overhear the person who coordinates the labor contracts tell the person on duty that he would be left with the forms to distribute to any workers who hadn’t yet submitted their forms.

So when I answered, “Bob has them,” it was about exactly the same time that “Bob” also replied to her that he was in possession of the forms.  And she didn’t seem to hear either one of us so she asked again in a much more forceful tone.  To which I calmly replied “Bob has the forms” to make it clear that I was actually addressing her question because I didn’t want to see the situation escalate.  Silly me.

At this point, the sports league friend had also overheard what was happening and told her “I think she said that Bob has the forms,” and the woman got out of her seat and started to lay into me, unprovoked, and for no reason.  ” NO, I’M ASKING where to get the labor contract FORMS.” I could feel my eyes widen and I looked at her friend who also seemed a bit startled and perplexed at the quickly escalating situation.  I felt just a brief spike of adrenaline, followed by crippling exhaustion and I replied again quietly and calmly (and everyone could tell from the tone of my voice that I had grown pretty tired of this but also didn’t want to invite any further conflict).  “Bob has a clipboard, that has the labor forms on it.  You can get one from him…”

Bob also chimed in with bewilderment.  “Hey, I told you, I have the forms right here…”  Then she looked around.  Her friend looked horrified (and a little bit guilty).  I felt a small twinge of relief (and possibly dopamine) that she’d just made an ass of herself… followed by my own guilt.

I don’t want to pattern myself to feel rewarded when someone fails at displaying good character. I can’t condone being cruel at another’s hubris even if they deserve it or they’ve earned it by being rude

I skimmed through several articles about corporate hubris and workplace bullying, but realized that it isn’t really a topic that’s discussed very often even though it seems to be (from what I understand from discussions I’ve had with entry level millennials) to be a pretty real and reoccurring thing.

I’m always wary of acting as a perpetrator of Queen Bee Syndrome, which is why I try to focus more so on performance metrics and upon equipping my workers both male and female to build their capacity for leadership because I know how it feels.  My last boss (don’t worry, it’s not chronologically aligned with what I have listed in my resume) was a bit of a queen when it came to his treatment of female workers.  And I’d worked for another who would take down half the hive to get back at one bee that fell out of line.  So I am not exactly thrilled about having to watch the safe space culture I worked so hard to build dismantled. But because I am not her supervisor and there will always be suspicion that I’m not assessing her equitably since I’d raised concerns prior to her promotion it kind of leaves my hands tied. My options include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:

a) I can address the issue with her directly (I’d need a tape recorder before I tried anything that risky)

b) document her behavior and my attempts to get upper management to get them to issue a stop order (which has its own set of risky ramifications)

c) do nothing (which seems only to escalate the situation since she seems to interpret that as some form of complicit behavior).

d) egg her on silently and let her tire herself out until she either crosses the line or experiences a breakdown publicly

e) research the matter more (although frankly I find the whole thing exhausting.  Once upon a time, in another job when I was allowed to fire people, I would have let her go and the entire staff would have totally backed me).

As you can imagine, I’ve made the decision to go with option e… although there are many moments when I wonder whether option d would be the most effective option.  I’d prefer to build a culture where we build each other up, so I hate to focus upon this one person when I have a lot of incredible workers who are just a pleasure to work with.  It just sucks that it’s so easy to let the actions of one person disrupt my ability to remember that, which in turn only makes me angry with myself.  Perhaps there’s an approach I can pursue that incorporates forgiveness….

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I know that there have been a few other initiatives to end workplace bullying and create inclusive cultures that reflect the desire to advance workers equitably, but I am not sure yet of the best way to navigate through this, I just understand that it’s not only causing me to lose sleep, but it also takes away my focus from creating the best customer and workplace experience for our employees.  What are some ways that you’ve approached this in order to remain accountable to your staff but also eradicate the problem without incurring the liability yourself of being misrepresented as a workplace bully.

“Every second you waste fretting over one hater is one second you can spend making a loyal customer happy.” ~Derek Halpern

I checked for reading recommendations for how to manage someone w/ poor self management/ emotional intelligence.  Do you have any resources you would recommend for how to manage these toxic and unhealthy behaviors (when firing is not an option)? Otherwise I may have to start taking advantage of this boss tracker.

Workplace Bullying Emerging As Major Employment Liability Battleground
Workplace Bullying: What Should You Do To Stop It?

In the meantime, in the spirit of lightening up, I thought I’d post a few “I would rather … than …” jokes that I can mentally refer to the next time one of my workers refuses to take advantage of something that would rationally and reasonably serve their best interest.

would-you-rather-halloween

(Just to spite you) I would rather … than to receive your medical attention

Suck the hairspray out of Donald Trump’s comb-over

Vacation at Abu Ghraib

Sit on my glasses — naked

Gulp every last pill in Liza Minnelli’s medicine cabinet

Lose my Social Security card and identification in Arizona

Pogo-stick across I-75

Move to Crimea

Base jump off a wind turbine

Eat a 48-oz. breast-milk cheeseburger

Re-watch media coverage of Justin Bieber getting arrested

Listen to Kanye West talk about himself nonstop for 72 hours

Sleep on a bed of used NFL jock straps

Convert The Godfather to 3D

Direct Breaking Dawn

Chew the head off Iron Man 2‘s evil cockatoo

Handwrite all of the dialogue to every Police Academy movie, up to and including Michael Winslow’s voice-sound effects

Adopt a derilect drug addict

Own Haliburton

Smoke a menthol cigarette through an asbestos filter

Clean up after one of Hugh Hefner’s parties

Drop my smartphone in a toilet

Be stranded out in backwoods Mississippi

Tumble down a flight of stairs

Cancel baseball season

Yodel the Ten Commandments

Appear in drag on Chatroulette

Dethorn the entire White House rose garden with my teeth

Lick pigeons

Stare into an atomic explosion

Convert to Scientology

Lose my house keys

Perform a bris

Go on tour with Milli Vanilli

File for bankruptcy

Re-enact the Phantom Menace (including Jar Jar Binks character)

Wash, dry and detail all the taxi cabs in New York City

Begin to Lean in

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffett

I must admit I’d been brooding a bit lately after our last round of hiring because due to a time crunch and lack of planning they’d excluded my input (and performance data) from the hiring process.  And I didn’t “Lean In” or intervene because I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries or to communicate that I distrusted the hiring committee or create discord. But I let my fear get in the way which resulted in some pretty inequitable hiring practices.

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I had some really great candidates.  According to the data, they each had the strongest performance records, two had a pretty strong rapport with the workers that they supervised so I assumed that one of them would be hired, but they lost to a candidate who was awarded the position of head supervisor even though statistically she had one of the poorest performance records and was the least prepared for the position.  When her friend, who just recently held the position told her they were considering candidates for the position, she would scramble around trying to appear to be helpful when being assessed by members of the hiring committee (which included her friend), but I’m embarrassed to say that the decision to hire her grossly reflects what many HR professionals refer to as a recency bias rather than her actual performance history.

It can be a bit hard to know how to navigate through the red tape surrounding all of this. I’ve had to build my reputation and I’ve compiled a lot of hard data because I know that distrust has been a huge factor in our organization and I want to be able to back myself up if I say something works so I don’t have to worry about being accused of bias or have to be held accountable for someone else’s negligence.

Statistically, I have a great performance record.  I am really proud of the fact that I have good relationships with my workers and have been able to improve their performance.  I just don’t see where it’s constructive to be a braggart about it.  This year I’ve been fortunate enough to only have had 7 under-performers out of 60 relatively inexperienced workers. We had two drop outs, two who are  on target to be kicked out because they don’t show up for shifts and are more or less at risk across the board, one who is juggling WAAYY too many responsibilities, one I’ll mention below and the worker I’ve mentioned.

Her workers are constantly off task and goofing off for HOURS at a time increasing not only our risk at being reprimanded by the labor office, but also our increases our patrons’ health risks associated with our high liability operation.  She has no idea how to keep her workers’ accountable short of snapping at them, she hasn’t really made any effort to learn our policies which results into her giving our patrons bad information (which lowers the consistency and quality of our service) and if you try to work with her to get her up to speed, she’s pretty unwilling to learn or to listen. It’s very frustrating at times and I can totally understand why mothers of teenage girls are constantly pulling their hair out.

She wants the autonomy of being an adult without having to take on the responsibilities associated with being an adult.

In fact, the supervisor hadn’t made any attempts to fulfill her duties outlined by her job description until hiring began about one month ago.  I’ve witnessed two emotional outbursts in which she’s publicly yelled at two of our inexperienced workers within the last week. They hadn’t actually even done anything wrong, she just got flustered and projected her hostility onto them because she didn’t know how to constructively articulate clear boundaries so she instead reprimanded them for behavior she didn’t personally like but had never articulated to them.  And for me it’s kind of hard to watch.  Obviously I can’t correct her in front of others and our office location is in front of everyone (I’ll explain in a bit) so even pulling her aside signals a public reprimand if we’re both absent.  And to be fair, my position (on paper) isn’t really designed to give me that level of authority anyway.  But because I’d previously expressed concerns about our even rehiring her to work within our department in a supervisory capacity, I feel as if I have considerably less influence now because I don’t want my concerns to be construed as some sort of retaliation or attempt to undermine her efforts to lead (ish).  I also know that she and her friend have some kind of expectation that I might try to sabotage her efforts and they’re both kind of watching me closely (it’s quite nerve-wracking really) to find any tiny little indication that might validate their suspicions.

Had I known that they hadn’t even invited any of the other potential candidates in for an interview, I probably would have spoken up prior to their announcing the new positions.  That’s a bullet I would have happily taken for the other candidates.  I was initially worried that I had failed to prepare the more qualified candidates in some way because I’d heard that she’d had a strong interview. I’d heard that part of what resonated with the hiring committee is that this candidate expressed concern that she would be judged and compared to her incumbent because she wasn’t as experienced or organized or considered to be as nice a person — qualifications I believe are kind of critical when you’re hiring someone to supervise the other 60 workers.  What I wasn’t aware of, until yesterday, when I was making a referral to one of the candidates who didn’t get selected to head over to our career center to set up an appointment on interview skills was that none of the other candidates had even been given a chance to interview.  So right now I’m just kind of taking a step back and trying to reassess what my best role should be given the situation.

Also, in order to reduce the risk that someone may perceive that I hold any personal grudges or would seek to undermine the authority that the new supervisor holds in her new position, I spoke with both her and our building supervisor on separate occasions to let them know that because it was my responsibility to instill trust and to allow her to learn how to do her position on her own (since that what she prefers) that I was going to take a step back out of the role of supervising workers.

It isn’t technically included in my job description, I only inherited the role because the administration and community wanted to hold someone accountable when our workers were neglecting their duties. I just happened to be the only visible person around since they moved my reception area down in the middle of all of the building foot traffic and once I realized that the “that’s not my job” excuse was not going to be very effective since most people only saw me acting as an agent of the organization, I was going to have to step up and exhibit that leadership when needed. It’s not a role that I have always enjoyed, but it has played to many of my problem solving strengths.  It has also forced me to reassess how I handle uncertainty and conflict (both verbally and non verbally) when I’m at my wits end because I am constantly “in public” due to the design and location of my workspace. I mean, I’m not even allowed to non-verbally communicate that I’m flustered or frustrated (even when it’s valid) because there’s no privacy and my role is expected to be responsive and deferential. So you can imagine why it’s a role that can often make me feel conflicted.

While theoretically it would seem that I have the option of simply removing myself from the equation (so I’m not expected to be liable for it) — this could easily be perceived as a cop out and could easily be construed as a lack of accountability if someone wanted to push it.  So I don’t want to leave that to chance as it would be poor reputation management.

How-to-Make-a-Good-First-Impression1

Yesterday I mentioned in mixed company that on my way home for lunch I noticed that the heads of the first crocuses of spring had finally poked their little purple heads out. I made a reference to something Shug Avery said in “The Color Purple” about it making God mad when we walk by the color purple and didn’t notice and the memory made me smile even though purple was a color I’d always been rather indifferent to in the past.  But it made me happy to see evidence that after this very cold winter spring was finally coming.”  And most of us just kind of stood and looked around for each moment not saying anything and smiled.  Then out of nowhere she goes; “Well IIIII really like the color purple…. I have three shirts in that color at home….”

For some (I think really unnecessary reason), she’d made a commitment to whatever she thinks this rivalry is.  Like she’s getting some sort of dopamine boost out of obsessively looking for ways to contradict me and I’m going to have to find some way to manage it.  It’s not going to go away by me simply ignoring it.  It isn’t really something that I understand, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone through it, I imagine it won’t be the last.  But apparently I have failed to recognize early on that she finds something about my presence pretty threatening, and by making the decision not to succumb to it, it isn’t de-escalating the situation, but is more likely feeding it.

But what I realized from that interaction was that this wasn’t about me.

…and the truth is, I have neither the interest nor energy to play into it.  It’s hard enough walking on eggshells to make sure that I am not only keeping myself accountable.  If I engage her directly, or even demonstrate to her or to others that I’m rattled, it distracts my focus from being able to set a good example and create meaningful relationships with my other workers. But if I don’t take care to regulate my behavior (including the nonverbal behaviors) when she has her emotional outbursts, I run the risk of triggering additional outbursts even when I exercise restraint because she’s looking to be the victim in this scenario, and I don’t want the motives behind my indifference to be interpreted as dismissive or negligent.

Part of me just wants to sit back, let her throw her little tantrums and tucker herself out.  But unfortunately, the business world will blame me for neglecting her because although I have no official authority over her, I am the only visible agent of the organization that will be associated with her behavior due to our shared physical proximity in our workspace.

At least previously, I had the option to write the worker up or send them home when they behaved insubordinately or couldn’t keep their emotions under control; a strategem I exercised fairly frequently in previous iterations of my job when I was expected to act as a disciplinarian in this role, really just because we’d had such poor worker oversight when they transferred me to that area and I needed to communicate to our community and my superiors that this area could and would not be neglected any longer — as well as to establish very clear boundaries with some of the workers who had been bullying their peers.  So she isn’t my first emotionally volatile worker and I imagine she won’t be my last. But promoting someone to a level of oversight that would her give her the same level of authority as one of my professional colleagues based upon one month of performance without weighing her performance for the previous 5 months does seem to be a bit irresponsible, even if the efforts may have been unintentional.

Plus it undermines the positive environment that we’ve built since then.  I immediately switched toward a positive reinforcement model of supervision once we weeded out the people who lost incentive to work for our organization once we increased oversight. Workers used to apply to work for our organization because it was the one area on site that met the labor requisite but required the least amount of accountability but the majority left once they increased my oversight because I actually enforced our policies and held our workers responsible for upholding our service standards and policies to ensure liability compliance. Once we eradicated the people from our workforce who were there for the wrong reasons, it was much easier to implement a structured merit based performance model.  The expectations were clear, we frequently rewarded those who modeled the best character and met our performance standards with more autonomy and more oversight. We also secured more buy-in with our new hires by implementing peer recognition initiatives and used peer modeling to improve our organization’s reputation and standing in the community as well as our staff, as is evidenced by our significant increase in leadership retention.

And in all fairness, now thinking back, I suppose I am guilty of suggesting that we seriously consider replacing that particular supervisor unless we can provide her with direct mentorship and supervision to help her work through some of her areas of weakness.  But I didn’t think they were going to hire her head the entire leadership division.  Her friend will be leaving soon and sadly, when her friend isn’t around to take her under her wing, she reverts back to the behavior I’d previously documented.

Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know how much it sucks to be micromanaged or to have someone feel as if they constantly need to put you in your place; which is why I make a special effort not to do that.  Many millennial often experience that when they become recent graduates.  Nagging makes young women old before their time and I may know a lot, but it doesn’t mean that I’m willing to take on the role of trying to control other people’s choices.  And I do my best to refrain from unsolicited advice when I can; but there are times when I see them standing on that ledge and at most I just give the boilerplate speech so that someone has a record of me attempting to be reasonable before anything disastrous happens.  If it’s a big enough concern I will pull them aside and ask them whether they have considered the implications of x choice that they are making?

Most are pretty receptive to it because they don’t want to make mistakes.  But the more headstrong mentees, like our new head supervisor and the incumbent just kind of bulldoze off the cliff for no other reason than they don’t want to feel like they’re being managed.  And I have to just let them — and wait — wait for them to approach me when they need someone more experienced to intercede if things degenerate and require a professional intervention.

And I understand that these young women want to contribute, to be treated like adults, and that they want to prove that they are capable of doing things on their own and I try to respect that. But:

You’re not going to reinforce my or anyone’s trust if you communicate that you’re impossible to work with; point blank.

Leaning in does not mean bulldozing over the people who care about your development or that you don’t have to be held accountable for your behavior or that exempt from having to listen.  You can either listen to someone who genuinely wants you to succeed, or you can listen to the consequences, but I have no intention of chasing you if you have a piss poor attitude or if you plan on wasting my investment. And I frankly have no interest in standing in between anyone and that choice if I’m not required to take on that imposition.

I’m certainly not looking to set back women’s lib 400 years or anything.  There are some aspects that you have to take seriously if you’re going to give good service.  I don’t push her to live up to those standards because she’s not required to, I am.  But when she makes mistakes that merit any meaningful consequence, I do pull her aside to call it to her attention because that’s what my responsibility is whether she’s receptive to it or not.  And it is also my responsibility in many cases to fix it, because I get reprimanded for it whether it be my mistake, my supervisors’ or my workers.’ But with her most of the time I can’t even get two words in and she automatically perceives being corrected as a threat and it has to do with her background or the way that leadership has been modeled to her in the past.  You can tell that most of her distrust of perceived authority figures has to do with ways that she’s been previously wounded and I would have to either keep a paper trail or wait for her to have a serious breakdown before I could even safely recommend that she seek out the kind of help she would need to resolve it.

In the meantime, I have tried to find other areas to redirect my interest.  I’ve been pouring through Martine’s book of etiquette to make sure that I am holding myself accountable in my treatment toward her so that my involvement won’t be considered a factor in the assessment of her performance.  I treat her civilly, and with respect, and when she fails to return the favor, I excuse myself politely and take my work to a different location.  But it still doesn’t stop her from trying to contradict me or to try to make me look bad in even the most trivial of conversations.

When we talked, I thought we’d resolved not to step on each others’ toes (and had even gone so far as to develop a nonverbal hand signal to let the other know when we’d cross the line, but I developed that for her to feel more of a safe space.  I didn’t think I was going to be the one to have to use it.

Most of the time, I just keep my distance so as not to egg on any conflict since she’s made it a point to articulate that she finds my presence a hindrance. And she doesn’t just do it with me.  I’ve also seen her bully or neglect some of the other workers as well.  There are times when I almost feel as if I am living in a modern day depiction of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” where I’ve been cast as Elinor and she as Marianne — only instead of having dueling views of romance we instead differ in our views and etiquette of work ethic.  There are days when she seriously makes me feel like Tina Fey from the movie Mean Girls.

tina-fey-mean-girls-musical

And I don’t want to be hard on her.  I understand that learning is necessary if she’s going to grow, I just think that at the level of emotional awareness and maturity that she illustrates right now that she really needs guidance before she’s entrusted to work at that level.  I understand that this conundrum ultimately revolves around issues of trust.

I learned the hard way early on, that leadership can be a burden if you don’t know how to build trust with the people that you work with.  And if someone you work with doesn’t like you or trust you, they will go out of their way to undermine you using any opportunity they can.  And this new kid is gunning for me.  Although I’ve never expressed it to her directly, I’m sure that her friend (the incumbent supervisor) and she have discussed that I raised concerns about her being rehired again.  The incumbent supervisor isn’t really supposed to disclose that information, but they’re friends, and the incumbent supervisor doesn’t have many because her time commitments don’t allow her much of an opportunity for a social life.

I just genuinely don’t trust that the new kid understands what she needs to be successful as a supervisor, let alone HEAD supervisor and I have the documentation to prove that she won’t even follow basic instructions, and she’s pretty negligent to the needs and expectations of our patrons and her subordinates.  But, for the most part, I do trust my direct supervisor who made the decision with the incumbent.  I just think because he was stressed for time and didn’t plan for his hiring process that he may have not looked at the bigger picture and the implications of half-assing his hiring process. I know that he trusts the incumbent supervisor implicitly.  She trained him how to do his role and I believe that he wants to be fair and equitable and to instill trust in her.

So I’ve been doing a lot of praying about it. I know that if I don’t find a way to learn how to manage it, it’s just going to silently continue erode away my self-confidence.  I think part of this means that I have to acknowledge my own disappointment about not being able to form a healthy bond with her and that displaying fear in an unhealthy manner is only going to reinforce a threatening environment.  I have a lot of incredible strengths that I don’t get to take advantage of.  And I won’t get to if I keep sitting back waiting for the storm to pass.  So although I don’t think want to sit back and take it, if I stop focusing upon her and just redirect my attention toward setting a good example, it’s going to frustrate her to no end, but I’m going to have to find a way to manage it.

They dug a pretty deep hole, but it’s not the end of the world.

I’ve also been doing a little bit of really wanted to research to see if I could find a more nurturant solution to address these concerns. I just have to record the data and measure the outcomes in performance.  Of our 7 under-performers, only 1 of them showed measurable improvement.  It was the one I predicted from the data I collected over summer.  So I shouldn’t write them off completely.  But sometimes people have to see themselves, or see how they are perceived by others before they can make meaningful decisions about how they choose to develop self-discipline.

What I’ve learned about myself from all of this is that data provides a rationalization for skewed bias, but it doesn’t mean that I’m exempt from having to listen.  If I’m going to hold myself accountable for how I treat our under-performers, then I need to be more aware of how my reactions appear to others.  And I need to learn how to do a better job of setting up our under-performers with mentors that they can trust and confide in so that they can have a safe place to go to, and do a better job of articulating my intentions.

And I’ve had a lot of success empowering and character coaching with the majority of my workers.  One strategy that I’ve employed more recently is a pilot big/little mentorship program between the more experienced and the less experienced workers so that the workers can get used to consulting one another for guidance.  The workers all seemed pretty enthusiastic about the opportunities for mentoring and bonding, and I think a program like that could be incredibly useful in teaching our workers how to recognize good leadership traits, model good work ethic and to initiate trust building to do a better job of closing our leadership gap intermittently so we can reduce the likelihood of something like that happening again.

In the meantime, here are some of the resources I’ve perused to kind of get a more holistic sense of directions I could take to manage this:

Problem Employees: Counseling & Discipline

Using “The Halo Effect” To Make a Good First Impression

How to work with untrustworthy peers

8 Ways to Eliminate Hiring Bias During Interviews

So I look forward to seeing how this develops.  I’ll be sure to update you on any strategies I implement or interesting outcomes from the data I come across.