In our daily lives, most of us, unless isolated, home-bound, a loner or in a situation where you are not frequently interacting with other human beings regularly, have the sometimes doubtful privilege of dealing with from one to many different personalities (sometimes all in one person!) in our daily pursuit of career, work in general, public service and/or volunteerism, shopping, playing, praying (church or synagogue) or even spending time at the public library, for example. Wherever we are, wherever we go, as long as we are around people, we are subject to those peoples attitudes, aptitudes and personalities. Happy, easy-going, cheerful, considerate, grumpy, rude, abrupt, mean-spirited, apparently intelligent, apparently not-so-intelligent, whimsical, off-beat, humorous, no apparent sense of humor, witty, ironic, sarcastic…well, you get the picture. We are either pleasantly surprised (or not), frustrated, amazed, taken-aback, hurt, and/or often offended by people we are often forced to work with, associate with, do business with or even play with.
At times, we have choices. For example, if we frequent a particular bank, we can choose which bank teller we want to deal with, if we don’t mind waiting in his or her line when other lines may be moving more quickly. Or we can use a particular store or business where we know that good customer service is the norm. We can choose our cosmetologist or our barber. We can choose our friends. We can choose a doctor we like (often putting up with not such great staff) or a dentist, or a lawyer, butcher, baker and candle stick maker (well, you get what I mean). The gist of the matter is that sometimes we DO have choices, so our exposure to other human beings can be somewhat controlled. At other times, in order to work at a particular company or office, for example, we may have to deal with one or more difficult co-workers. Or we may love our doctor but his office receptionist is brash and just plain rude. If personality was a hairstyle, she’d have barbs for hair! That clerk at your favorite bakery is a ditz and frequently gets your order messed up, but it’s the only place in town for cranberry nut scones so, in the hope of getting the extra skinny latte that you always do order, rather than the double shot, double cream latte you never order (she says that you remind her of someone else), along with that scone…well, you keep coming back. Besides, that clerk is just a young college kid. She deserves another chance (and another, and yet another). What the heck?
I, personally, can deal with ditzes. I can do something (and have, in fact) about the rude receptionist (the doctor, unless he is getting more than receptionist service from her, or she’s his wife or daughter) generally will take ones comments about rude staff behavior to heart. Sometimes it works and you’ll walk in to find someone new at the front desk, OR suddenly the receptionist is treating you like an old friend, inquiring about your children, grandchildren or pets like it really matters to her, or it all backfires and you get the COLD SHOULDER, after you get the snippy greeting. Whoops…she’s pissed off at you! Dumb doctor should not have mentioned WHICH patient complained! In any case, I can deal with public servants, store clerks, receptionists, and grumpy bus drivers and not let it get to me, but the one thing I have a difficult time with is when I find myself in a job I love at first, with a great boss, terrific pay and benefits, a good location close to home and a chance for growth only to find one or more terrible to deal with LONG-TERM co-workers. You know that one or more reasons they are still here exists: 1. They are really, truly, certainly and without a doubt good at their particular job! 2. They are family, a lover or a close family friend (or a close family friends relative or close friend). 3. They know something about the company, business or the boss (or the bosses family) that could be detrimental to someones well-being. 4. This person treats everyone else great but has it in for YOU for some reason. That makes it harder to deal with as nobody…other co-workers nor the boss, understands what you are dealing with. “Why, Linda is great! You just have to get used to her quirky sense of humor (or any other number of things) and you’ll see…she’s a great person to work with!” As months go by, you begin second guessing yourself. Am I doing something that irritates LInda? Am I the only one she snips at? Am I the only one she makes fun of in front of other employees or clients? Am I the only ______________ (fill in the line)?
I, myself, have run into this a few times, but about 5 years ago, I was literally crucified mentally by a long-term employee that everyone thought was great. She had worked for part of the insurance agency for years and was apparently the boss’s right hand man (er, woman). She was not attractive in the traditional sense of the word. She was slightly overweight (so am I!) and wore pants that were a bit too snug (not to be “sexy” but because she didn’t seem to care about getting the next size up) that showed her cellulite through the khaki material. I am not saying this to be mean..only trying to draw a mental picture of Cheryl. She had non-descript blond hair, always hanging down but without style or pulled back. She did not dress professionally (aside from the khaki pants, she wore bland blouses of tops and tennis shoes or worn loafers) and simply did not seem to care about appearances. Now I am getting at a point here, not critiquing her style.
When I first began my job, she was very nice, along with the rest of the staff. I was now receptionist for two parts of the company that had recently split into residential and auto insurance and commercial insurance. Cheryl went with the “other side” but had refused to move from the front of the building (the reception and commercial side) to her bosses office, which is what he had wanted her to do. She constantly made comments about her boss (deprecating, and indeed, he was a bit of a dork)in the form of guerrilla humor (scathing comments cloaked in the form of a joke) and that kind of banter seemed to be a critical part of their relationship. He seemed to adore her and I mean that literally. He could find nothing wrong with Cheryl’s behavior.
As time went on, I began figuring out a few things. As mentioned, I was the new receptionist, her old job. When the phone rang, she grabbed it (beat me to the punch, so to speak) and when a client walked in, she either greeted them like old friends (and some were, so I understood) or greeted them like the potential new clients that they most often were. She was trying to do her old job and out-receptionist ME. Although her new position should have and most often did keep her plenty busy, she still had to hang on to control.
She would critique my answering the phone skills (and believe me, I had those under control very quickly). That really irked me, as my career background has always involved answering phones, directing calls and customer/client/patient services and that business was slow as molasses most days so it was hardly a challenge to catch calls and transfer them to the right person or take messages. Piece of cake and a cupcake sized piece at that. But to Cheryl, it HAD to be done HER way.
One day, before anyone else had arrived to work, I caught her crying in the back break-room area. I was compassionate and I truly cared. For a while, my hug and listening to her seemed to loosen her attitude towards me and she was a bit kinder, but only for a while.
Later, a therapist I spoke to about this told me that people like Cheryl do NOT like to be caught being “weak” and since I had seen her vulnerable and she had spoken to me of the issues that had caused her to cry, she actually began to resent me for seeing that side of her. That same therapist told me that Cheryl resented me (she did not like the additional responsibilities of her new job and wanted her old one back) and that, because I was caring, outgoing (with the clients and the office staff) and made myself part of the environment without trouble, Cheryl felt threatened. So, she picked. She made rude comments. She got her boss, a man a bit older than me but a dumb-arse with good business sense, to also making jokes at my expense and that really got to me.
I ended up writing an email to him, telling him how he had hurt my feelings and explaining how much Cheryl’s attitude had already hurt me and that, he being the professional should know better than to let it continue. He wrote back, telling me that he joked because he liked me and that I should ignore Cheryl. He thought I was doing a fine job.
I should stop now and indicate that he was not MY boss, but was now a partner with my female boss who had just purchased a part of the business from him and was still relatively insecure due to that fact. Long story. She was compassionate, had dealt with a WORK BULLY in one of her former jobs and was empathetic BUT was not brave enough to be supportive enough to go to Cheryl’s boss, my bosses former boss and now colleague, and demand that he do something about how Cheryl was treating HER employee. There was in effect NO support there. And since Cheryl was actually liked by most of the staff (or tolerated, as one of them said to me), she was requiring that they take sides and choose HER.
I didn’t demand sides to be chosen, but was desperate for respect that I was not going to get. I even approached Cheryl personally to “sit down and talk this out” and wrote her an email asking the same thing. She literally had a hissy fit when she read that note, said some very Un-Christian-like things (Oh, did I not mention that she as a strong BAPTIST and considered her church a valuable and precious part of her life; my trouble with that is that she was so obviously being a hypocrite and not very Christian like in behavior to a fellow office-mate and in fact, a fellow Christian, at that).
I finally left that job. In leaving, I finally realized that nobody gave a damn. Nobody was going to miss me. I HAD not made an indelible mark in the office or on those people.
That’s okay. Down the line, that changed and I found a great job where I DID make a difference and when I left after close to 2 years, the staff AND members of the senior center did care.
It’s all about finding respect!! It’s all about deserving respect!!! And most of all, it’s all about respecting oneself.