Monday, September 23, 2013

Fuck Diplomacy

Being nice is a habit from my corporate lackey days that I really need to give up. Not that I want to be a Malcolm Tucker type, screaming and cursing at everyone while still holding a job and getting promotions, and who the fuck am I kidding? I totally want to be like that. Not that I want to make everyone around me miserable, but I've worked in multiple places where I've been told, "we've spoken to Crazy Ted several times about his behavior, and he's just not going to change. He's going to keep working here and he's going to keep being crazy/rude/whatever to you, and you're just going to have to take it because standing up to him is unprofessional." (Note that in many instances, Crazy Ted is Crazy Tina. Obnoxious co-worker behavior is non-gender specific.) 

But my deep seated desire to be socially allowed to curse out people in the workplace is not what I'm talking about here.

What I'm talking about is spending an hour crafting and revising an e-mail over and over again so that I don't cause offense. Because that's what you're taught to do when you work with Crazy Ted. Managers insist that it's possible to avoid setting off the crazy if you just try hard enough. (I suspect that they don't really, really believe it. They just think they do because they lack the power to fire Crazy Ted.)

The problem is that you can't avoid setting someone off. Case in point, the reunion story. In which I made an offhand comment about how the cool kids had taken the online planning of the junior reunion offline and made some questionable decisions. In the resulting shitstorm, people started testifying to their own personal experiences with coolness and had no opinions on the decision to not bother tracking down the rest of the class, or illogical location decisions.

The people who'd made suggestions, or offered to help tie down locations said nothing. Which kinda undermines that whole "I've rarely regretted saying nothing" quote that's been going around. Way to let me take all the heat for saying, "hey what about so-and-so's idea?"

Only a true asshole thinks they're never to blame. But I'm starting to realize that how I phrase something isn't going to determine how someone is going to take what I'm saying.

As a writer, the realization that I can't write my way out of someone misinterpreting my meaning and jumping down my throat? Mind blown.

In college, I took a journalism class. The professor was a freelance investigative journo who was teaching one class just to have a steady income. He'd pretty much done it all - music journalism, celebs, politics. He had the grizzled no nonsense attitude that came with the ability to interview Mick Jagger and not be too intimidated to get a decent interview.

One class, he was talking about some little bit of ethics. Not making up sources, probably. "If you do that, people will think you're a jerk," he said. And, of course, jerks don't get hired.

Everyone in the class got it. We did not want to be thought of as jerks.

Last week, a writer acquaintance of mine did a blog post that broadcast her own ignorance about something writing related. (I'm being deliberately vague here because I'm not looking to publicly embarrass her or call her out for her later actions.) I thought it would be ungenerous to let her continue broadcasting her ignorance since she's a pro writer and was intending to continue in this vein in a larger venue than her blog. So I sent an e-mail saying, hey you probably don't know this, but here ya go. 

She responded saying, essentially, I don't need to know that, I'm a hack.

Instead of writing her off, I replied saying as gently as I could, yeah, you do need to know that and why are you disrespecting yourself and what you do? I spent an hour I could have spent on my own paying work trying to encourage someone else and give her a pep talk. 

And that's when she accused me of being condescending. This has been followed by nasty comments on Facebook including one from a complete stranger who seems to think that insulting my lipstick is part of a valid argument.

So fuck this. 

His Awesomeness told me not to bother. He told me it would only lead to aggravation. I have allowed him to do the I Told You So Dance. How is it that he's the kinder, gentler one of the two of us, but I'm the one who refuses to learn that people are eager to take offense? 

I don't think I can stop trying to pay it forward to people. I've gotten great unsolicited advice and I know I'll need more along the way. I've made so many mistakes in my life that if someone told me that I was making an ass of myself, I'd probably roll my eyes and say, "Oh, what did I do now?" without even bothering with the kneejerk defensiveness.  

But it's just not in me to decide that someone less experienced than I am is hopeless and unworthy of help.

But I'm done wasting time trying to be non-confrontational. 

Because the people who will get it, will get it. Whether you say, like my teacher, "if you do that, people will think you're a jerk," or if you spend an hour looking for the gentlest words known to mankind. Crazy Ted in the office is going to find some excuse to cut loose, so why spend time trying to avoid it?

What's your policy on advice? Do you let people sink or swim on their own? Or do you give a helpful word when it's warranted/welcome? And how do you judge when that is? Please no comments on the recent sitch - people have been blocked on social media and it should die down soon. This post isn't about that. It's about how we don't actually have the power to prevent people from getting mad at us. 

7 comments:

  1. Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a would where people could say what they thought and other people could hear it without automatically getting defensive? Some people just look for things to become ever so offended about. I say do what makes you feel ok about yourself, and if that's too much for some people, move on. They'll likely never change.

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    1. Thanks for saying that. In past situations, people have told me, "You shouldn't have said anything." Which, well, thanks for the hindsight there, but that's not really a policy I'm comfortable adopting for all situations.

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    2. I kinda think the people who told you that you shouldn't have said anything are doing to you exactly what they're telling you not to do to others, in some sort of weird roundabout way, ya know?

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  2. This post could not have been better timed! I have had several situations like this in my "social" aka not-directly-connected-to-current-9-5 life and a very similar one recently. I am also one to be pragmatic in emails, give it straight and be thoughtful as to what/why I'm writing but not dance around. I tend to err on side of caution and give advice to: those whose communication style is compatible with mine, those who have had some dealings with me offline, or when someone is being a tool and I think they genuinely don't realize it. I don't think you can stop people from taking offense because in this world of online facades, anything contradictory can put a weak person on the defense. And you never know who is just a bit cracked; I assume most people are, haha! I think you did the right thing by reaching out and what's the point of the interwebs if we don't get feedback - it's not all about likes/praise/sunshine&rainbows&cupcakes ;)

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  3. For some reason it seems more difficult to give feedback electronically. In person you can use your facial expressions and body language to gentle it up, online you have to work through the filter their parents created for them in childhood and reinforced up until just last night. You never get to know what that filter does to your feedback, though. I had a situation where I asked a well known reporter to correct the spelling of an actor's name online --HTML makes that possible-- and she absolutely flipped. She couldn't handle it. I just thought it would be nice for the actor. I wasn't thinking the reporter was an idiot at all. But that's the way she heard it. Since then, I rarely bother.

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    1. In person, you can also judge the other person's response and adjust accordingly.

      But HTML?! Whatever content management system the reporter's publication uses should make it embarrassingly easy to fix misspellings. Why would anyone get upset over that? Reporters are supposed to love the accuracy. Oy.

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  4. It amazes me how people automatically go into defense mode when someone wants to help. It's like they are just waiting for an attack. The fact is, if I'm giving you advice it's because I care and I want to help, not hurt.

    I get that the whole social media "troll" thing is HUGELY out of hand, but if I know you, and we've interacted on some level, I'm not trying to hurt you. If I didn't care I'd let you fall on your face and let the trolls rip you apart.

    People are so defensive of everything these days. I think we all need to slow down and realize even with all the hate in the world, there are still people out there that want to help; people that want to see us succeed, and we should hold onto them with everything we have.

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