Friday, October 9, 2015

When you get what you want(ed)

It's no secret to me that my workplace is a toxic one. My therapist and I have discussed it ad nauseam.

I've also been reporting to a manager for the past four years who's probably the most hands off manager and emotionally distant person I've ever reported to as an employee. His stock standard answer to basically everything was "We're all in the same boat", a line that's quite possibly the most uninspiring thing you can say to your staff at any given time even when you are, in fact, sitting in the same boat (which would just make it a really obvious observation).

I hoped his manager, or management period, would see the light and gift us with a new manager to replace this one. I hoped for someone who was more aware of the little important things like processes, workflows and actual engineering. I wanted one who would come in and provide some structure and leadership, and who could see past people's bullshit and stop silly pushiness.

Well that guy, he arrived last Tuesday. He is on task, he listens, he understands and he's there to kick arse and take names. He's a living list of things I wished I had in my previous manager and he's so spot on I was ready to concede that the Law of Attraction may actually be a real thing. I was almost ready to join Oprah and the Secret movement, and declare myself a convert.

But, there in my gut was a niggling feeling that I needed to look deeper. I tried to dismiss it thinking I had become a little more than my fair share of bitter and twisted, that I was now the color jaded. On the surface the impression this guy was making was rather stellar.

It dawned on me today why I felt so drained after talking to him. My mind usually moves faster around processes and problem solving than your average persons'. I like being in that mode, the problem solving mode. My mind also tends to be very solution focused. I like kicking obstacles out of the way so there's a clear path for everybody moving forward. I like managers who like clearly defined processes because it's a great way to a get a common understanding of what's expected and also to find any problem areas so you can deal with them quickly. I suddenly am faced with a person who is even faster than me doing all that. It should be a perfect match! I can sit back and enjoy the ride finally.

Here's the thing though, and I can understand where he's coming from with this one too by the way, when anyone mentions what's been happening before he arrived four days ago he instantly jumps in and urges them to look ahead, and this is after he started a conversation of what it's been like. On the surface that's perfectly fine but it's also a toxic behavior. Not allowing people to express their pain, hurt or worries, effectively shutting them down, is actually quite hurtful. So, OK, it's normal and probably "sound" management practice but for the person it's happening to its actually quite bad, or it can be at least.

We have an awful habit of not letting people express themselves when it comes to what most people refer to as negative emotions. Many of us fear having others do it in front of us because we think they expect us to deal with it but that's usually not the case. They just want someone to listen to them.

Having empathy (I wrote about a previous manager I reported to who had plenty here) is such an important skill for a manager, but being able to hold a space for anyone to hurt in even if it's briefly requires not so much courage but clearly defined internal boundaries. Most us really don't have that. 

Constantly being told to move on when you have a legitimate emotional issue come up shows a lack of empathy and also a lack of general understanding of basic emotional intelligence. My new manager ticks all the boxes for managing engineering issues but while he's clearly well versed in personality types and how they work together, holding space for others is not his forté. I don't suppose it's common that managers do in any business, especially not in corporate environments, but I believe it's an invaluable trait for a manager to possess especially for the well-being of employees.

What I learned today is that I require is more than just the basic structures, that I want to work with and be around people who are a lot more switched on and human than this. It's a little like being between a rock and a hard place. I put in an order and they fried my eggs exactly the way I wanted them but I just realized that perhaps I should have asked for organic eggs while I was at it. Perhaps it's wanting too much or perhaps it's part of the journey I've been on digging deeper and finding more of my authentic self. I don't resonate with my workplace but I can't really see there being a lot of workplaces I would resonate with with that mindset.

There's really such a thing as getting exactly what you prayed for but finding that perhaps you forget that one magic thing and that's to skip all the little specific details and just go for "I want to be content."

I'm just saying.

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