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Fix It Or Forget It?

May 30th, 2012

What if you realize you’re basically on your own at work?  Should you Fix It Or Forget It?  See what Paul* and Robin* did.

Shortly after Paul* started his new job, he made a change at his office.  It didn’t seem like a big change to him, but it turned out to be pretty big to others, he realized.

Paul grew up in a family of coffee drinkers, and his sister owns and manages a gourmet coffee shop.  One of the first things that he noticed was the poor quality of the coffee in the office kitchen at work.  Since he has access to free gourmet coffee via his sister, Paul brought in enough packets of really fine coffee to drink during work hours as well.

(“I really couldn’t handle the sludge at the office,” he confessed.)

He didn’t anticipate the incredible reaction, however.  People who hadn’t noticed “the new guy” now sat up and nearly applauded!  In fact, staff members from the kitchen at the other end of the floor, not to mention other floors in the building came to Paul’s floor to get their coffee!

“I was an overnight sensation!” he chuckled, remembering his instant popularity.

Eventually, of course, Paul’s “fame” fizzled, and he was expected to work at his job – which he did.  Not only did he feel that he was good at it, but he volunteered for additional duties, such as heading up the staff retreat committee, and other assignments.  He had positive reviews from his superiors, and felt that this position – and place of employment – was going quite well in general.

Then, something (seemingly) unrelated happened.  His sister’s business took a turn for the worse, and her very livelihood was threatened.

Paul’s family is very close-knit and private, so family or economic problems are not something that he would openly share with others; still, he clearly could not hide the fact that he would no longer be providing everyone with free gourmet coffee, and they would wonder why, after it was available for nearly two years.

Paul decided to take the blame himself, rather than implicate his sister in any way.  Her shop was quite far from the office, and although he saw her regularly, he decided his best reasons to give at the office regarding “no more coffee” should be that he couldn’t make such far, regular trips to her shop with his aging car, as well as his demanding work schedule, etc.

“Just as I was unprepared for the love I got for bringing the coffee, I was equally stunned at the hostility – both outright and laden – when the coffee stopped,” Paul told me.  “It was astonishing!”

Most people weren’t blatant enough to come right out and complain (although some did), but Paul noticed that he wasn’t greeted in the hall as often, asked to serve on anymore committees, and generally bypassed for nearly everything.  “My opinion no longer seemed to matter for, well, anything.  I suddenly became a pariah.”

After a couple of months of this reaction, Paul felt as though all the work he had accomplished had been virtually invisible, and nobody ever saw him as anything more than coffee supplier.  Now that this title was gone, he could see that it was time to Forget It! and we worked on finding him a new position immediately.

Robin* worked in a department with several others, and a mostly absent, hands-off manager.  While there are many good aspects to having a manager who doesn’t overly-supervise the staff, there were times that Robin did wish he would step in and take some control once in a while.

Too often, one staff member in particular seemed bent on spinning the whole staff out of control, so that it made getting something productive done nearly impossible.

“I’m not opposed to some chit-chat and people getting along, talking about how their evening or weekend went, but this one staff member in particular just goes too far, in my opinion!”  Robin explained.  “Once she gets going, it’s as though she can’t stop – or doesn’t want to!  She tells way too many details about her personal life, and it’s just inappropriate for the workplace.”

Sometimes, other staff members would participate in her discussions of very intimate information – or just listen as she blathered on – Robin explained, but either way, it took up a significant amount of the workday, not only for the participants, but since this all happened in an open (cubicle) workspace, even not participating made it hard for people to ignore and concentrate, once she started.

Robin didn’t really want to leave her job, but she was at a loss as to how to gain control of a situation that her boss clearly didn’t care about – and she didn’t want to be at the mercy of this daily “soap opera,” either.

“When this one person is absent, the entire office atmosphere is totally different.  I’ve noticed.  I’m not interested in getting her fired, or anything, so what do I do?”

We discussed that most likely, what keeps this person going is the attention, and I suggested that Robin take note of how long she yammers on at various times.  I suspected that the more others participate in the conversation, the more details she’d have to contribute, versus times when people only listen . . . or don’t pay any attention at all.

Obviously, if nobody paid attention, she’d most likely stop altogether, but setting up such a conspiracy was a very remote possibility, so the next likely option was to “steal” attention away from her, so to speak.  This involved Robin having to increase her participation level of the conversations, bit by bit – and attempt to upstage the attention seeker, over time.

Since Robin wasn’t interested in sharing her personal life traumas, as this woman did, I recommended that she simply insert remote third parties, such as, “my college roommate,” or “someone on television” etc.

Over time, as the gossip started in, telling of her latest saga, Robin would swoop in immediately, responding with, “Oh, yeah, that’s like my cousin, except he . . . (more outlandish version, said in somewhat diminutive tone) . . .”

Sometimes, one or two people would then ask Robin for more details about her “cousin,” but she would downplay the whole incident, wrapping up the discussion with one or two word responses, thereby killing the entire topic of discussion.  After several rounds of this, the gossip ended up sharing her juiciest tidbits during lunch breaks – more privately – with her favorite individual audiences . . . deliberately out of earshot of Robin!

“That was just fine with me,” Robin laughed.  “If she needs to tell tall tales and they want to hear them, let them do it – I just don’t want it blathering all over my workspace!  This was the best Fix It! for all concerned, I’d say.”

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.
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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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