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Friday, August 04, 2006

Coping (or not)

So an issue came up on my mid-year performance review about my need to learn how to deal with "difficult personalities." By that, I think my boss meant our communications manager and my editor. CM has a habit of belittling other people's problems to make them sound less significant than they are, and of not understanding what you mean whenever you tell her something. Here's an example.

Hey Pretty: I'm feeling a bit stressed in completing my deliverables on account that everyone wants me to meet their deadline first.
CM: (with a far away look in her eye) I'm not sure what you mean...
HP: Well, I have three major projects all due at once and there isn't enough time in a day to complete them all.
CM: Well, what about the CD ROM project?
HP: The CD ROM? Well, that doesn't need to be complete until January, even February at the latest. Last year it had to be finished in December and we didn't start until October. And, since I was new to the project last year, this year's will be a total breeze as I know what I'm doing.
CM: But last year the production was too rushed.
HP: Okay, well, we can certainly start earlier. How does September sound? Besides, isn't it supposed to be based on information that the research and policy groups have compiled yet?
CM: (with a far away look in her eye) Noooooo...I don't think so.
HP: But says here on the work plan that J compiled, "based on x." We don't know x yet.
CM: That's okay, you can get started on that anyway.
HP: (giving up) Sure, I'll do that. Now getting back to those three major deadlines, what I meant was, I think I need to push one of those back, if that's okay.
CM: I'm concerned about your stress level.
HP: Right, so am I.
CM: Thing is, we all have a lot on our plates, it's simply going to be a difficult time for everyone.
HP: Thanks, I guess you're right. Excuse me, I should be getting back to my work.

or, even better

CM: Let's talk about last week when you didn't write that page for the website on time.
HP: Okay, well I was writing an article for a magazine that week, on top of doing interviews for something else, and you didn't assign a deadline to the website piece, so it fell in priority.
CM: (with a far away look in her eye) I don't understand...

Editor comes with her own bag of issues. Namely, that her project is always the most important. Secondly, that she has a rigid goal in mind for what an article should be and when the issue can't bend to conform to that image, she expects her writers to conform it to that. Ethical journalism? As if.

Editor: But the article we pitched to the client will be about the challenges that somebody overcame when learning to use z, and your article doesn't present any challenges.
HP: Yes, I see that. Unfortunately for us, there really isn't a challenge in using z. It's a pretty straightforward material.
E: But we need a challenge.
HP: I understand that, but there isn't one. I don't know why the client wanted us to write about this, they should know better than anyone that there isn't a challenge.
E: But it's what they expect...

Sigh. Not to say that I'm perfect. I'm sure that any HR person worth their salt could pick apart my sides of the exchange and find fault in my approach. My point however, is that difficult exchanges like this totally stress me out. My gut reaction is to be grumpy and snotty and sometimes I am. I let my emotions react before my highly evolved sense of reasonm which clearly has a bad case of narcolepsy. Sometimes reason manages to awake from its daydream in time to jab my emotions in the ribs, but what that looks like to the outside observer Is me sitting quietly in my chair futily trying to piece together a string of words that sound like a diplomatic sentence and failing miserably. Fact is, I cannot deal with difficult personalities and have zero idea how some people manage to be cheerful and even helpful to people who actually deserve a punch in the mouth. How do they do it?

I always end up feeling incredibly resentful of the difficult people. They get their way and nobody ever criticisizes them for their communication style and nobody ever tells them that they need to improve their ability to interact with people with short emotional leashes. Perhaps it's time for me to start taking yoga again. Maybe an overall zen state of mind is what I lack.

2 Comments:

Blogger Michael J. West said...

I'm thinking hard about this one...but, seeing as how my job is kind of a combination of yours and Editor's--but leaning towards Editor's--I'd best reserve comment for the moment.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm slowly figuring out that learning to manage superiors with difficult personalities can be helped by two approaches: (hopefully this doesn't sound too preachy)
1) Managing superiors for them, and locking them in so you know where you stand. (i.e. for a vague supervisor who always wants the project done first, demand a timeline for even the most trivial items.. and with any conflict ask them if they'd want you to bump this other project to get theirs done.)

And 2.) smiling politely, walking away, writing an entertaining blog entry to entertain your friends, checking local news media for gossip, then come up with your own timeline and remembering that if worst came to worst, you could leave the job and pursue a writing career with the full support of your friends.

- DS

5:07 PM  

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