Monday, January 21, 2008

Playing Nice

When I was a girl, one of my favorite things to play with two of my little friends, Theresa and Heather, was Charlie's Angels . Theresa, whose grandmother lived next door, always got to be Jill, because she was oldest and biggest and could smack down anyone who might try to challenge her claim. As second oldest, I was allowed to choose between the other two angels. Because no one ever wanted the tall, boyish one with the doofy hairdo, I always picked Kelly, leaving Heather with no choice but to be Sabrina. There was no discussion, no real attempt to see if maybe Heather wanted to be someone else. It was just accepted that this hierarchy was how it ever was and how it would ever be. In retrospect, it was not a very nice way of playing.

I think about this today, because of a situation I've been experiencing with a coworker. We don't necessarily hang out after work, giggling and braiding each other's hair, but we've worked together for a few years now and generally get along well. She does wiggly butt dances for me in front of my window when she goes out to get tea; I do cheers when she successfully completes a VLOOKUP.

The thing is that she also sometimes makes little remarks to the effect that I am our bosses' favorite. And it may be true - at least in the sense that I don't get as micromanaged as the others sometimes do. These remarks seem to have increased and become more grudging recently as my coworker has sought a promotion into my old job. Usually, I just let it flow off me, because I choose to believe her words are not really so much directed at me as at her own frustration at feeling stuck. I'm working really hard on choosing to be happy, and choosing to not take affront at little things is a big part of that. Besides, I do understand that it is easy to get frustrated when we're feeling stagnant and sometimes we blame the lack of motion on someone else getting all the good stuff, instead of focusing on what we can do to foster our own success.

Anyway, on Friday, she said it one time too many, and I found myself suddenly feeling really irritated by was, from her perspective, probably just an offhand remark. Still, it was enough to push me from Zen-like peace to indignancy. While it's true that my boss does like me, it's also true that I work really hard, often going beyond what I am asked to do. In the time that I've worked at my job, I've actively taken classes and put in a lot of effort become an expert at the details of my job and used that knowledge to implement programs that have saved my company money and resources, so the implication that my success is due to some kind of nepotism rather than skill, made me pretty mad. My coworker left me feeling like she thinks I have more responsibility because my boss likes me, than that my boss likes me because I am responsible and competent.

At any rate, instead of just talking to my coworker about it, I chose the very unproductive and uncommunicative route of clamming up while my interior monologue urged me on to greater heights of irritation. When she tried to make casual conversation, I stuck to strictly business as though it would somehow make the point that I work too hard to get bogged down in idle chit-chat. Even coming back to work today, I found myself still feeling pretty cold toward her, because in stewing, I'd taken myself from an initial casual response of "Dude, that was kinda harsh!" to "I can't believe she is so jealous! I don't need this shit! If that's how she's going to be, then screw her!"

Frankly, for a lazy person like myself, it takes too much energy to be indignant for very long. By Monday, it was really bringing me down. Somewhere around mid-morning, I realized that I was being overly sensitive in allowing a few frustrated comments to stamp out a few years of good relations. In doing so, I was forcing her into a role I'd made up for her (Jealous Bearer of Ill Will). So, I listened to my inner Wayne Dyer (I cannot control what goes on outside, but I can control what goes on inside) and made a conscious decision to not be angry with her. I didn't have much to lose. After all, if it didn't work out, I could always step back into my rage cage and proceed forward with Operation Irrational Hatred.
At first, I have to admit that I had to fake a bit of friendliness that I really was not feeling. But, then, as we talked, something happened. I started to feel better, which allowed me listen to her. As I did so, it became apparent that what I was seeing as jealous crabbiness toward me was really the product of a personal situation that had nothing to do with me. I'm not saying that I am love with some of her comments about being "the pet", but I also recognize that she is struggling against some things that are way bigger and more important than work.

So, we had a good talk about her situation and now things are less tense. It's a good reminder that we don't always know as much as we think we know about people and their motivations. Sometimes the crabby muppet in the balcony has a reason to be surly and sometimes fleeting comments are just that. We all say stupid, insensitive things from time to time. That doesn't make us evil to the core; it just makes us human. So, today I've learned a bit about the merits of being understanding and that it's generally best to allow them to pick their own angels (or devils!) before we get too carried away in picking the wrong one for them.


Leslita said...

You're so right - playing nice almost always works! It can be SO HARD though when you've really let the irritation fester and you're just trying to pretend like the person doesn't exist at all. Bravo to you for making the effort. I'm glad it was rewarded! I need to remember to do this more often at work. Even if the irritating thing doesn't change, it helps to remember that the person is still a person.

Martina said...

Thanks! People really do make it difficult to be nice to them sometimes. You're right about remembering the other person is still a person. Also, I think sometimes with work and other situations where you can't pick the people, you have to lower your expectations to getting along and knowing that anything beyond that is icing!