Saturday, January 08, 2011
A stinkweed by any other name . . .
If you want some good people watching, camp out in a hotel crammed full of loosely affiliated strangers brought together for a week long annual corporate meeting. Working in a position that touches the work lives of a few hundred employees, I know a LOT of my coworkers by name. I see them on reports, we correspond via email, we IM, we talk on the phone. Some of us are Facebook friends. Essentially, except for annual meetings like the one I've been attending this week, we do everything but meet each other in person.
I spend a lot of time at these meetings watching and scanning crowds for individuals I want to meet. It is interesting to see how people interact at these functions. Some are on the prowl for a hook-up, others only have eyes for people with fancy title. Some people are minglers, comfortably flitting from group to group. Others are more reserved, sticking like glue to the same little cluster of people every time I see them.
The latter are my people, the ones I get. I too am not a good mingler. I am friendly, but I'm also not good at approaching. I've never been comfortable breaking into an already established cluster of people. I take too long to come out of my shell to be good at schmoozing. My parents apparently had deficient schmoozing genes that skip a generation. So, I spend a lot of time talking to coworkers I already know, people who approach me or ones I have friendly relationships with and wanted to meet in person. I figure with them it's a pretty safe bet that their response will be "It's so nice to finally meet you!", so they're safe.
Sometimes people surprise me, like the guy who literally chased me down to hug me and tell me how awesome I was. I had no idea he felt that way. I saw him running toward me from far away, but assumed he was late for a meeting. There were also two upper management guys who yelled my name from across the hotel and came over to tell me how much they and their teams love me. I got a lot of that and it felt pretty good to see that I have a good reputation with my coworkers and that they think of me as someone who will fix things for them when they have a problem. Even our supreme overlord chatted me up for a bit and then made a point of acknowledging me (or high fiving me) whenever we ran into each other. I find this somewhat amusing. While I really do believe it was his way of being genuinely friendly, except for with my five year old nephew, I'm not a big high-fiver. Secret handshakes sure, but I'm not so much a high five kind of person.
The generally positive vibes I got from people made my experience with one of our regular overlords all the more surprising to me. We're not best friends or anything, but we've been on conference calls together and I work a lot of his employees. I'm not being arrogant when I say that I think he'd know my name. When I finally tracked him down and introduced myself to him on our final night there, he looked at me like "Who the fuck are you, and why do you dare approach me, worthless worm?", quickly inquired which office I work in, then turned his back to me and started up a conversation with someone else. Talk about awkward! I am no smooth operator, but even I was completely stunned at his lack of social grace. At first, I thought "Well, maybe he just doesn't recognize me. My voice isn't the loudest, maybe he just didn't hear the name right." The thing is, even if those things are true, that's no excuse for treating anyone like that.
I've had a few instances with people like him when I was younger and working as a nanny to put my way through college. There are always going to be those people who look right through you, if they decide you're not "important" enough to acknowledge, but I have never experienced it so openly in a professional environment, especially someone in a position and culture that's supposed to spout the "Every member of our team is important" line, even if they don't really mean it.
I've never understood why some people think a title or an financial statement renders them more worthwhile as a human being. A title may prove that you know your field, it may prove that you've worked hard and paid your dues, or sometimes even just that you know who to suck up to, but it says nothing (hear me, NOTHING) about your value as a human being. I'm not really hurt by his behavior. My job is my job and not my life, and I'd certainly never seek out someone that douchetastic as a friend. The funny thing is that I only introduced myself, because I thought it would be kind of rude of me to be there all week in the same building with him and not do it. I'm more bummed that an otherwise mostly positive trip ended with a reminder that mean people do indeed suck.
Ah well, at least is it all over now. I am exhausted by all the meeting support stuff, but I did get to spend time with some pretty cool people this week. More importantly, now I am home where my little dog will tear anyone who looks at me cross-eyed limb from limb. She would do it really slowly, because drawing and quartering is a slow process when you only weigh 10 lbs, but I know she's got my back!