Social masks & other little lies we tell ourselves
Argh. It’s the little things that trip you up when you’re trying to focus on some huge project like a thesis. For example, I’ve realized that if I don’t nibble something every four hours or so, my blood sugar crashes. This would be no biggie, except my behavior also changes in such as way as to cause housemates to back away warily while holding a chair between us. Less dramatically, I completely spaced the fact that I was supposed to post something on the tenth! I’m going with short but sweet (hopefully) this time.
Just as my writing here is about potentially protective social masks, so too do I wish to protect the people about whom I speak. Consequently I’ve changed both names and some of the small details related in this Firestarter. I’ve tried not to dilute the basic message, however. Enjoy!
I have a dear friend I do lunch with on a fairly regular basis — someone who is an extremely conscientious and dependable person. Just the other day I listened to her vent in frustration about her former boss, whom she’d known as a friend before getting a job with him. To her surprise, she’d found him to be a startlingly unpleasant and dictatorial person to work with, and she became quite uncomfortable with the power dynamics of how he ran his office.
When she gave her two weeks’ notice, she went to his office to deliver the news personally and in private; she thought that was only courteous. She was consequently subjected to an hour-long barrage of ranting against her, with the former boss yelling and scowling at her, accusing her of wasting his money, waving his arms and stalking around the room, and claiming she hadn’t done her job… needless to say, she was quite shocked. She got another such similar diatribe when she went in for her last check, and she reported to me that she seriously wondered if she’d even be able to get it! He did finally write it out and throw it at her, and she left with alacrity.
Since then she’d had nothing to do with the man, and (unsurprisingly, I thought) no longer considered him a friend. I know I certainly wouldn’t have, and I found her behavior with this unpleasant fellow to have been a model of self-restraint and courtesy — one I wasn’t sure I could have emulated, to be honest. Here’s the startling part, though, and the reason my friend was venting to me: she’d recently found out her former boss was confused and unhappy… because he didn’t understand why she wasn’t his friend anymore!
From what I was told, his reasoning went something like this: business and friendship are completely separate, and what one does during business has nothing to do with what one does as a friend. This apparently meant he could be incredibly rude, patronizing, loudly overbearing, aggressive, unfriendly, and just plain mean to my friend… but since it was all “business,” it somehow didn’t matter at all how much he’d hurt her feelings! There was a complete disconnect there, for him, and he was perplexed as to why she didn’t want anything to do with him anymore.
My friend was almost in tears as she described how malicious her former boss had been towards her while she was his employee, saying deliberately hurtful things to her and (at least as far as I was concerned) treating her like dirt. When she was done telling me what had happened, she asked me for my opinion: was it childish of her to not wish to have anything further to do with this man? I responded from my heart, assuring her that I felt it was only common sense to avoid someone like that! She seemed relieved, and we chatted a bit further and said no more of it.
Later, however, I sat and thought a bit more on the subject, trying to analyze my strong and immediate response. I know there is a current meme that conflates maturity with separating friendship and business, and I used to believe it as well — but I’m not sure I agree any more. How is it mature to turn a blind eye to mean-spiritedness and cruelty? In what way is it more adult to ignore behavior in a business partner that we wouldn’t put up with for a second were it coming from a spoilt child?
I suppose if I decided “maturity” is the same as “shut down any sense of personal responsibility” then this ridiculous meme works. Past that, though, I see no reason why I should expect and anticipate being treated like an emotional punching bag by anyone. To me that’s not acceptable behavior regardless of whether it’s between friends or business associates.
Further, amongst every person I’ve asked about this, not a single one has said that they consider it a good thing when someone tells them, “Let’s talk business now.” Indeed, one friend put it quite clearly, “I’ve learned that every time someone’s told me ‘let’s talk business now’ or ‘now it’s business,’ that’s code for ‘I’m going to screw you over without guilt now’!”
I guess what this boils down to for me is: if we would not treat a friend so shabbily, why is it all right to do so to a business associate? Wouldn’t we all be better off if the courtesy between friends was extended to business as well? I realize this may sound idealistic, but on the other hand, I can’t really see any reason why anyone should put up with crap simply because “it’s business.” I’m curious, though: what do you think is appropriate, and why?
Myself, I can’t see any way that being abusive and harsh is a way to expect the people under you to get anything done, let alone keeping a friendship.
I have seen the phenomenon where people are different at work than they are not at work. I myself see it in me, that I can be very curt and cool while I’m at work and under pressure. But there’s a difference there: am I being unfriendly? Perhaps. But abusive? Surely not. Whatever my feelings are, it’s because of what’s going on inside of me, and it’s leaking out a little, because I’m not able to put on a happy face. I am not yelling and screaming on a regular basis at customers or fellow team members.
That said, I’ve also seen a wierd dissonance between the way my own boss treats me, and the way he treats the assistant managers under him. When I screw up or do something inappropriate, he comes to me, and we talk about my screwing up, and we have a reasonable conversation about what expectations are, and I promise to do better. It seems like often, my manager is constantly calling the other managers onto the carpet for not meeting expectations: not always screw-ups, but for doing things like not taking a lunch, or staying late to finish something (and therefore having overtime). And this isn’t just from the mouths of the managers themselves – I’ve seen icy words coming from his mouth, talking to the newest manager when I’ve been in ear shot.
Does he treat non-managers this way? I can’t be entirely certain, although I tend to think he leaves disciplining the rank and file up to his AMs rather than doing it himself – like used to happen with me. But it seems clear that he has different ways of handling different people, so he knows that you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. And yet he still brings the hammer down a lot and I can’t figure out if it’s because he’s getting a lot of pressure to dot every eye and cross every T, and the managers are not living up to that, or if they’re all just fuckups that never try to fix their behavior – which I doubt.
I’ve gotten off track a little, so to get back to what I was thinking about when I started this post, there was one guy that I got along well with that was an AM for a good couple years. He and my Center Manager went at it like cats and dogs often, and he almost quiet a number of times before the CM talked him down, or the District Manager did likewise. But one day, the CM showed up to a performance that my friend was doing – he was a singer in a disco cover band – and the CM was incredibly friendly (as in, not simply polite), so much that it stunned my friend.
What it comes down to is this: I seriously think that while you might be willing to forgive more of a friend than you would of a business associate, there are always ways to handle hiccups in either sort of relationship without being an enormous Cock about it. And people that are enormous Cocks should not be surprised when someone doesn’t care to spend time with you because you were a Cock to them.
(No, I don’t know why I’m capitalizing cock, either.)
There is no excuse for his behavior, business or no. He behaved like an ass, and deserves to lose her friendship. If the situation were something like he had to lay her off, and was as contrite and apologetic as he could be but had no choice, then the division between business and friendship could apply should she discontinue their association outside of work, but it sounds like he has a long history of treating those in his employ like crap and claiming the cloak of business as an excuse. As one who hires and fires my own workers, and who often gets to be friends with them, I do my best to be as civil and sympathetic as I can be. I occasionally fail in this, and say or do things that were less than nice, but I almost always apologize after as it is usually the result of stress or frustration. There is no excuse to belittle those whom you supervise, and this man needs to learn that. In my opinion, of course. :-)