Tag Archives: difficult people

Working Motherhood

14 Nov

Today I was chatting with a friend who mentioned an interesting workplace concern:

Mothers who do not pull their own weight due to “kid commitments” — doctor appointments, school drop-offs, parent-teacher conferences and the list goes on.

In all honesty, I have very little patience with this rigmarole.

Walk in the shoes of a working mother or father for just a day. It ain’t pretty.

The juggling act of a parent with a professional position requiring anything beyond 40 hours a week of work is backbreaking. I’m not saying that those without kids don’t work hard. What I am saying is that those with children manage a high-wire act difficult to imagine unless personally experienced.

Spare time is nonexistent. With what little time there is in that grey margin of time just before and after work, the trade-offs are make-or-break:

  • Please a client by going the extra mile one evening by writing another op-ed or go to the ballet recital.
  • Make the boss happy by attending a client reception or be at home for dinner with the family.
  • Delegate to junior associates or do the work myself while my son is going to sleep.
  • Work on the weekend to catch up on the email and “thinking work” that I’m too busy to complete during workdays filled with meetings, or let it go and spend time just being a mom.
  • Have a tough conversation with my boss with the phone on mute while I am transporting my extremely loud and arguing kids to X evening activity, or set the limit that we’ll need to talk about work tomorrow.

Kids remember when we are not present. And so do coworkers, bosses and clients.

Being a parent and a professional are both serious business. Frankly, the only way I’ve found to do both is to do quite a bit of work while my children are sleeping or otherwise occupied on the weekend.

I often have the sense that I’m not paying enough attention to one or the other, but the simple fact is that I devote well beyond “full-time” to each. I know that most parents feel this way, too. Not all workplaces are sympathetic to working parents’ challenges. Children interrupt us at work, just as work interrupts us at home. It goes both ways. With the encroachment of technology and the stressors of the “new economy” — constantly feeling like we have to prove ourselves in order to stay ahead of the next layoff at work — it is often not fun.

For the most part, the policies of my employers have been open-minded to the situation of the working parent. I’ve been lucky in that regard.

What’s surprising is the attitudes of co-workers. Probably the most frustrating thing for me during my 14 years as a working mother has been the judgment of colleagues.

After my son was born, I took off nearly three months to be with him. Some thought this was too much time for someone in a leadership position like mine and let me know how they felt, but I don’t regret it to this day. You cannot get that time back.

Although I started working half-days before I returned, I still was not back at work full-time until my son was 12 weeks old. And when I was back, I took two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch every day. The breaks were to pump breast-milk that my husband could feed him while I was at work, and the half-hour-long lunch was so that I could be with him to feed him in person. I did this every day for about six months. And I worked more than 8 hours each day — usually something like 50-55 hours a week. Both the nursing and the work were priorities, and I did them both.

Because I took the breaks and the lunch on a regular schedule, often they interfered with other meetings that occurred at work. And that got noticed. I felt it. And there were one or two female colleagues without children who seemed resentful. It was stressful. I often felt rushed, running out of meetings to do the pumping or meet my husband in the parking lot with my son, so that we could sit in the car together for 30 minutes or so to nurse.

A few years ago, I was leaving work to attend a Girl Scout outing with my daughter — time that I made up after-hours. The following day, another working mom colleague shared with me that I needed to be careful about taking this time. She was subtly warning me that doing this was not generally acceptable at our workplace. I thanked her for the heads-up and took note. I also took note that people who left early to play golf did not seem to experience the same judgment.

Now that my kids are older, it’s not as stressful, but I often need to leave work right on time, or I arrive 15 minutes after our “official” start time. And I wonder whether it makes a difference or not that I am working well over full-time to make up the difference in the evenings. People can and do make uninformed judgments based upon what they see in the workplace.

The honest truth is that flex-time is over-rated. Because some of the time unfolds outside the regular work day, it’s easy to pass judgment that the time is “less than,” and thus the work itself and the commitment of the working parent are inferior.

I have no easy answer to this dilemma, for myself or for any other working parent. My own choice as a supervisor has been to support high-quality work and the people that do it, whenever and wherever they are able to complete that work.

There’s more to be learned here. I’m sure that I’ll get more clarity on this over time, but for now it’s just hard. It may sound like the easy way out, but I’m glad that I’m now counting down from nine years to the end of my time as a working mother of school-age kids.

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Animal House

28 Sep

I heard an intriguing piece on NPR today, about the new David Sedaris book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. He discussed how freeing it is to write about people who remind him of animals, without having to make apologies for writing about them.

Confession: People often remind me of characters in fairy tales, classic novels and movies. While bored in long meetings, I have from time to time let my mind wander and imagine how their characters would fall down rabbit holes…

So it’s safe to say that I get where he’s coming from with this book. Childish, immature? Probably. But it works.

There is a part of me that thinks it’s bad to criticize people for character flaws, so I will think of them in more forgiving ways by letting them take on character roles. It helps me to be less angry. As characters, they have permission to do what they will do, in character, naturally and innately. Why wouldn’t they be themselves? Full-tilt, head-on, no holds barred.

I did this with my blog series for working with difficult people. There was the Corner Office Troll. The Change Agent. The Vampire. The Neglectful Boss. The Friday Afternoon Surprise. I’ve worked with all of these people and have seen them at their best and worst. At their core, I am enthralled with all of these difficult characters. Which is the reason I wrote about them. They’ve all taught me lessons, about how to be more compassionate, less obnoxious or more patient — with myself and others.

I did a similar writing exercise with a dog of mine. For a while, I gave him a Twitter account. The kids and I would come up with things he’d say, like:

5:30 am, Saturday: “Hellloooooooooooooo, yard! Here again?”

And so forth. But he kept saying the same things, so I’m interested in how Sedaris deals with the “goldfish world view.”

What I like about the Sedaris concept with his bestiary short stories is that there’s no line drawn between good and bad. Animals are animals, being themselves. And so many times people are that way, too. Sometimes it’s good not to pass judgment, just to accept people for who they are. I’ll report back once I start reading this, to let you know whether or not the book is as good as the concept.

Where’s My America?

25 Mar

Politics bring out the worst in human beings. I’m convinced.

This past week has been a case in point. With the health care reform bill now signed, we can look backward — and forward — with a certain amount of pride. And shame.

Pride for having accomplished a feat that puts us on a par with the rest of the developed world. We are finally in a position, as the wealthiest country in the world, to provide for our own people’s well-being, when they are not able to care for themselves. Our bootstraps mentality has gotten us far in this world, from explorers of the New World to pioneers of the Wild West. We have a right to be proud of DIY-ism.

Yet it has held us back from providing a fundamental building block of getting ahead — the gift of health — to millions of our fellow Americans. We’re apt to go around the world and be the hero, saving others from tribal infighting and cruel dictators, but we’ve hesitated for so long to provide for our own. Now we’ve gone and done it.

Where’s the shame in all of this? We have some serious contemplation to do on our collective reaction to the difference in opinion about this reform. What’s my key point here? Difference of opinion is a good thing. If approached without fear, hatred and bigotry, it’s fertile ground for bridge-building.

This is not about pollyanna can’t we just get along mentality. This is about the very substance of our nation, our past and future.

Where’s my America? An America that was born on difference of opinion, seeded by people who left Europe because they were persecuted for their religious beliefs that ran counter to the norm. My English ancestors came to America in 1682 on the ship Submission, leaving behind an England that had them fined, imprisoned and beaten down for practicing Quakerism. So many immigrants have come to these shores seeking freedom from persecution for their beliefs. Our government was built upon humanistic ideals that saw beyond religious affiliation and elitism.

Suddenly, difference of opinion means that we cannot meet in the middle. It assumes that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to believe. Absolutism reigns, to our collective detriment. The ideologues on talk radio — both sides — are becoming our puppeteers. They create the spin, and we parrot their messages. I am so tired of hearing recycled ridiculousness from the pundits. When did we stop thinking for ourselves, reviewing the information at hand and coming up with opinions that we could stand behind?

Right here in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, we’ve hosted Tea Partiers who publicly ridiculed a man with Parkinson’s disease, insinuating that he was a beggar who did not deserve “free” health care.  A sad case of misinterpreting someone’s circumstances.

Political discourse should not mean that citizens — and our elected officials — need to shout or threaten one another over something as trivial as a disagreement over beliefs. Theoretically, our political beliefs stem from the same set of facts. We just interpret them differently. That’s what makes them opinions. Somehow, society seems to be confusing beliefs and opinions with facts.

We need to get back to talking with one another, not accusing each other of being “baby killers” or “liars.” We’ve got to remember that our system of government was designed to blend difference of opinion and make something of it, not fail to participate in compromise and solution-building. The current landscape is an embarrassment to our country’s heritage of open debate. We’ve had our moments in history where we’ve strayed from the freedoms of thought and speech that formed the basis of our nation. Let’s not be tempted to let our America stoop so low again.

People Being People

17 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot about a post put up a few weeks ago by Mark Henson of Sparkspace.

Most managers will identify their biggest inspirations and disappointments in terms of people. Our bests and worsts all come down to personalities, tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, potential (untapped or activated) and interactions with other team members in accomplishing our work. Sounds like an obvious statement, doesn’t it? Here’s why:

  • People get the job done and interact with team members to achieve results.
  • People make mistakes and learn how to better do the work.
  • People are incredibly productive and creative, providing services and products never before imagined.
  • People fail to get along with other team members and make small problems bigger over time.
  • And people take up time and energy. A lot of it.

Mark’s post is about what he calls “killer whales” in our workplaces. Here’s his definition:

I’m talking about those people who just seem to create damage everywhere they go. Maybe it’s through a chronically negative attitude, or gossip, or laziness, or spreading “victim mentality.” Killer whales in companies have also been known to be brown-nosers, ladder climbers, big talkers, and otherwise selfishly ambitious snakes (oops, sorry, we were talking about whales, not snakes, weren’t we?).

I’ll add one to the list: the under-bus-throwers.

The post made me think about the various work environments I’ve experienced over the past 20 years, as a manager and an employee. Who among the people of these workplaces has been most memorable? I can quickly identify my favorite leaders and coworkers, the ones who challenged me and truly embodied the word “colleague.” I also have clear memory of the leaders and coworkers who at times seemed to actively PREVENT me from accomplishing work. Some of these individuals became the “characters” in my working with difficult people series of posts last year. Most everybody fell into an in-between category…sad but true. I guess it’s not unusual to remember the best and the worst.

Negativity and me-ism has no place in a team environment. Managers have a responsibility to hold the mirror up to the killer whale and help them to self-assess and self-correct behaviors that become unproductive, however well-meaning. Mark’s right in that sometimes the killer whale needs to be released into the wild. There are humane ways to make that happen, but running from reality and ignoring your organization’s killer whales will send other staff the wrong message.

For the sake of the common good, who among us is brave enough to confront the killer whale?

Obama’s Peace….Both Sides Now?

11 Oct

I’ve been curiously listening, watching and reading news coverage and general opinion about Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Put me in the “conflicted” camp about whether or not he deserves it—at this point in time. For those who know me, this will be no surprise. I am a ferocious moderate, mainly because I always want to have clear proof before I’m won over to either side. This is an interesting case study for proof, or lack thereof.

On one hand, I admire Obama’s perspective of hope, international cooperation and thoughtful decision-making on tough topics. I don’t agree with those who claim his only skill is oration. I do believe that we deserve a president who is intellectual AND action-oriented. We can both be inspired AND see the fruits of our efforts. I see both qualities in his approach, and I’m willing to give him the time to prove his mettle. When it comes to fixing national problems, instant gratification is not possible. Sorry, far right.

On the other hand, I do think it’s fair to question whether or not mere potential qualifies someone for the award. Just as it’s unrealistic, naive and obviously partisan to criticize President Obama for not getting us out of Iran, Guantanamo Bay, the recession and staggering national debt, it is premature to award him a prize for results not yet achieved. Have we truly moved the needle in terms of the world’s opinion of the U.S.? Too soon to tell. Sorry, far left.

Some have vehemently reacted to the announcement, both ways. The right is vilifying Obama as if he awarded himself the Nobel Peace Prize. I suspect that he was as surprised as everyone else was about the news. The left is responding to neo-con pundits with incredulity, insisting that the right-wing spin-meisters are not paying attention. The left-wing contingency would do well to wipe the stars from their eyes and keep Obama focused on outcomes.

Instead of criticizing Obama for not having done enough, speak up about what he should do. Get off your high-horse and point the way forward. Rather than being blinded by the light, the far left should keep clear outcomes in mind, and hold Obama to meeting them. To the extremes on both sides, who’ve come out in full force to dominate the news coverage on this topic, there’s still much to be learned. Don’t look back to decisions made under previous administrations, Republican or Democrat, and either blame or credit Obama for the problems or the accomplishments. Again, look forward, with solutions in mind, before judging or believing before it’s time.

I don’t believe that true change will happen right away, and I haven’t seen any evidence to prove otherwise. Frankly, it took us eight years to bring down our international reputation. Cowboy politics don’t play well in the global sphere, and we are now paying the price of rebuilding our country’s reputation. Both Republicans and Democrats in D.C. have roles to play for the sake of change. Don’t dig in your heels and prevent it—and don’t just assume that saying it will happen is sure to make it so.

Social Media Musings

13 Aug

This summer has been an interesting set of firsts for me in social media:

  • I got my first “commercial” offer on the blog–an incentive to run a contest. Gratifying to get asked to help promote a publication as lofty as Harvard Business Review.
  • Just a few weeks ago, I friended my mom on Facebook. It’s been interesting. She will not let me help her to post a picture of herself, but she was very interested in joining the fan page for Elvis and her church. She’s a bit lonely out there right now. I don’t think that there are many septuagenarians on Facebook. But my mom is not afraid to try new things, and I am quite proud of her.
  • I made the decision to “defriend” some people on Facebook who don’t interact with me anyway, in person or online. I am all about having quality interaction with the people that share back with me—not those who share nothing or just include me in push messaging that I’m not interested in. Life is too short to waste time. This defriending lightened my load in terms of friends but gives me more time to read and enjoy content from people where the friending is reciprocated. In case I accidentally deleted someone who really does matter to me, I made sure to let folks know that they should give me a shout to refriend–just as a safety net.

Nothing revolutionary here. Just some social media musings.

On Manners

7 Jul
Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Good manners signage from Australia...applicable universally.

Manners are subjective. There are few remaining standards for proper behavior, as recently noted by The New York Times columnist David Brooks. One person’s rude neighbor is another’s best friend. My philosophy is basically live and let live, so I am fairly patient with people’s idiosyncrasies that could be misconstrued as bad behavior.

But one thing that gets my goat is people who are just plain rude. I had a very strict kindergarten teacher named Mrs. Hudson who had a panoply of characters posted above the blackboard. Rude Robert was the most gauche. Above all, in Mrs. Hudson’s class of 5-year-olds, it was bottom of the barrel to be Rude Robert.

Disrespect for the elderly is a pet peeve of mine. The other day en route to work I was coming down the stairs at the parking garage. A young professional-looking guy breezed past me in the stairwell and proceeded to nearly knock over an older woman lower down the flight. I felt badly for the woman he almost knocked over. Not just because she risked a tumble—this was a situation where the proper thing to do, out of respect for her age, was just slow the heck down and politely let her lead the way to the foot of the stairs. Zoom past her then, by all means, but just let her get down the stairs with her dignity intact.

Another example: Being snubbed. When in public settings, it is not necessary to flap one’s arms and flag down acquaintances from across the room. But some sign of recognition, a simple nod in shared acknowledgment of coexistence and common experience, is appropriate and a sign of mutual respect. Long conversation is not required, but no one wants to be blatantly ignored. Just bad form.

One more: littering. Throwing trash out the window of one’s car is just wrong. I remember in the 70s when we kids were encouraged to call people “litterbugs” for not respecting the environment. One time when on the ski lift with my daughter, we boarded behind two fun-loving 20-ish women. They cleaned out the pockets of their parkas and tossed candy wrappers, beer cans and kleenex underneath the lift. At times like this, my inner vigilante comes out. First, do not litter. And second, don’t set a bad example for kids. On the way down the hill, I speared their trash on my ski pole. It was easy to see, because there was NO OTHER TRASH on the hill, since POLITE PEOPLE know not to litter. When my daughter and I arrived back in line for the lift, lo and behold, there were the young ladies. I told them they left something on the hill. They said, “No, we didn’t,” and I said, “Oh YES you did.” There were lots of other people in line, and it is not pleasant to be held publicly accountable for something you didn’t think anyone saw you do. Oops.

And finally…stealing. Again, some people think that this is okay if no one sees them doing it. I don’t think so. Once while at church, I was in the cry room with my toddler (a few years ago!) and saw a man steal a bike from the rack in front of the church. Again, vigilante action. I told a friend to watch my kid and ran out of the church, knowing that no one else saw this happen. I chased the man across the street shouting, “Thief!” Public embarrassment, again, ruled the day. He dropped the bike and ran off to find another something to steal.

Bad manners make us less complete as humans, in relationship to ourselves and others. It’s not a matter of looking or acting properly—it has to do with treating humanity, even oneself, with dignity.