To be honest, it has taken me a lot of time, reflection and angst to write this post. It comes from a very difficult work time (way back in the past) that I now generally feel at peace with,. However, it appears that I am not so at peace with it when I sit down to relive the experience through a blog post.
Regardless, I feel that this time is an important part of my journey, a catalyst for significant learning and a story that therefore needs to be told. Right now, I am a little anxious that I am going to become caught up in the negativity that was my experience at that time, and I am being alerted to that in my torso, stomach and breathing. Hello, anxiety. Thank you for alerting me to your presence. Shoulders back, Deanne. Open the torso, breath in for four counts, and exhale for eight counts.
At the time that I was coming to terms with the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, I was also having some challenges at work. I wasn’t doing my best work at work, and I am ok with admitting that. I would never have applied for the job that the organisation ended up putting me in upon my arrival, so I am not surprised that I wasn’t a great fit. Additionally, I have an assessment that a number of people in that environment weren’t doing their best work, which made it quite difficult for everyone, I think.
Anyway, I wasn’t doing my best work and I was also having a massive self-doubt crisis that didn’t really help my case. On top of that, my manager was moved on and a new manager employed from outside the organisation to (kind of) take the previous manager’s place. The new manager was a friend of the most senior manager on the account. I had previously refused to consider the new manager for a role in my team because I thought that the senior manager on the account was being unethical and putting the needs of one of her friends, who was located in a different state to where the role existed, above the needs of the team. Now the guy I had refused to consider for the role was going to be my manager, so I guess I didn’t hold a lot of hope for how this was going to work out for me.
I probably gained more of an idea of how this was going to work for me when the senior manager on the account said to me, during my first meeting with the new manager, “Deanne, I don’t think you can do your job”.
The next 6-7 months, from October to May, were tough in my assessment. The messages from my new manager were very mixed and confusing for me which I, of course, interpreted as uncertainty. And what a perfectionist who is in the middle of a self-doubt crisis and trying to come to terms with the death of her father, whilst figuring out how to cope with the senior manager on the account telling her she is crap really doesn’t want is more uncertainty. It messed me up even more. Every morning, as I walked from the car park to the office, I hoped and prayed that something would happen to me; something to take the misery away. The regular coaching conversations really helped me to keep some perspective, and continued to give me hope that it would be ok.
There were many conversations with my manager where I thought I had said X and he interpreted it as Y. It started to feel as though, for every conversation that we had, I had to choose my words so that he didn’t attach meaning to it that I hadn’t even considered might exist. I will never claim to be perfect as a manager; I have a lot to learn. However, I do hold an assessment that I take the majority of my action from a point of caring, and it both shocked and hurt me to think that someone else couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see that.
There were times when I was sworn at, and told that I was “sh*t at doing your f*ing job, and sh*t at getting your staff to do their f*ing job”. I was performance managed (understandable on the surface, I think), and given a heap of goals that my manager openly admitted in the presence of HR were “subjective but what we want you to work on”. Initially, my manager refused to come to my performance management meetings until, in a moment of courage, I advised HR that I felt that his choices were either to put some skin in the game and manage the process appropriately, or make a decision to get rid of me there and then. After surviving performance management, I was told that if I really cared about the organisation, I would be working 50-60+ hour weeks and not 42+ (when my contract was for 38 hours). In the same sentence, I was also told that “Family definitely comes first, but you need to take some responsibility. The other night, I called you and asked for help and you jumped in and did a heap of stuff for the organisation. What did your children miss out on then because you chose the organisation over them?” The whole experience was rather challenging, in my assessment.
Years later, someone made the assessment that, regardless of what he handed out, I “kept taking it and taking it”. I like to think that some of that was courage and determination. A lot of it was fear. And, even more of it was because I held an assessment that I was the wrong fit for the role, wasn’t doing my best, and deserved everything that I was getting. I am not so certain that I still believe that I deserved it.
When I finally did leave the organisation, I made a declaration that I was going to take learning from this, and that I was not going to be bitter. Once again, I chose gratitude to help me, and I went off into the world, grateful for the experience of being bullied. Another declaration that I made was that no team member who ever reported to me was going to have to experience what I had experienced in this role. I was adamant that the universe had sent me this experience so that others could benefit from it, and I was going to make that happen.
It is interesting that I was so grateful, non-bitter and eager to change the world that I even updated my manager’s resume for him after I left the organisation. My husband and friends stood by in shock as I supported my bully in applying for jobs that would get him out of the organisation. I requested that they understand that this was part of my healing process. I am not convinced that I would update his resume for him now. I accept that he was most likely suffering and perhaps operating from anxiety himself and I feel some compassion towards him for that. I have to confess, however, that I am still very much a learner with regard to reaching forgiveness about this experience.
At a workshop, I once read out a poem. I asked everyone to listen to the poem, and then invited them to tell me what occurred for them as they were listening. It is interesting that everyone in the room had their own interpretations. One person thought of their school days, another thought of their grandmother, another thought about a beautiful lake and a bright sunny day, and so the list goes on. The interpretation is that everyone here had different listening. Their life experiences, their moods, assessments and stories had all come together to impact the meaning that they made from their listening. The meaning of the message is in the way that it is received.
Think of two colleagues – one you hold in high regard and one who you may feel less confident about interacting with. What are you saying to yourself as they are talking to you? What assessments are you making? What stories have you created about them? How does this impact your interpretation of what they are saying? This, I think, applies to the experience that I had with my manager, where I was saying X and he seemed to be interpreting Y. He had a listening of me and the quality of my work that came from the discussions that he’d had with myself and others and the assessments that he had formed along the way. This impacted the way in which he interpreted what I said.
Something else that came to me when I wrote this story is that it is such a good example of the impact that our assessments can have. This manager formed a number of assessments about me – the “subjective objectives” in our performance discussion for example – and he lived these as a truth. So, it was like “In my opinion you are doing X, which is wrong and I want you to do Y which is right”. The funny thing is that most performance discussions come down to a discussion about assessments and, as managers, I don’t think we are encouraged to seek to understand them. Rather, we try to look for measurable objectives that match up with our opinions, and don’t worry about taking responsibility for grounding those opinions. What if we tried to ground our assessments, or at least seek to understand them from the point of view of those about whom we are making the assessments?
The final point that came up for me very strongly as I was writing this post was the concept of the legitimate other. When we hold someone as legitimate, we hold them with a deep respect, and with the understanding that how they are operating is legitimate for them in their current way of being. We accept that they don’t have access to other more resourceful actions from their current way of being. We may not like how they are being; we understand that it is all that they have access to. I am not certain that I held this manager as legitimate at the time. I did understand that there were probably some underlying emotions coming into play; I didn’t accept that his way of being didn’t offer anything else. On the same token, I am not sure that he held me as legitimate. This has led me to thinking: How would it be as managers and leaders if we were to understand that everyone is operating the best they know how from their way of being at the time, and if we sought to understand that and work with them? I think it feels quite powerful.
Having said that holding someone as legitimate can be powerful, I feel it important to also acknowledge the power of the legitimate self. I think that the key to holding someone else as legitimate is to also ensure that we remember to consider ourselves as legitimate.
Points to Ponder…
Think of a situation that you would like to be working differently.
- How is your listening serving you?
- How would holding others in the situation as legitimate help you?
- How would holding yourself as legitimate serve you?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.