Friday, August 29, 2008

Competency is a double-edged sword

Yesterday, Ethel was lamenting how crappy her workload had been lately. Mostly, she's having to work for a really obnoxious interior design manager in the office. She feels like she's being talked down to and dimished, both to her face and behind her back. And I would agree--it's been a while since I've worked with this woman, but I recall her being pretty obnoxious. Ethel's advocate in the office is Jacqueline, which probably was a good idea at the time but she now realizes is a bad idea. "Jacqueline won't listen to me when I complain about ____," Ethel said, "but she knows what a bitch she is. Hey, y'know, maybe you should be my advocate!"

I paused. "Hm, maybe," I fudged.

Ethel's reasoning was pretty good. I'm familiar with her and her work, and she asks me for advice on a regular basis anyway, and I might be more able to speak up on her behalf than Jacqueline would. Jacqueline's not into a whole lot of maintenance of anyone really; to be fair, she's not very nurturing of anyone who isn't her 1-year-old little girl, and that's just how some people are. I countered that people know that Ethel and I hang out, and that the higher-ups might not listen to me because they'll think I'm just sticking up for my buddy. Ethel also conceded that she'd rather have me as her friend than as her advocate. I said I'd think about it.

I did, and the answer is unequivocally no. I know for a fact that no one's going to take me seriously as her advocate because I am indeed her pal. Plus, I think I know her too well--there are some behaviors of hers that I cannot defend or excuse. I offhandedly mentioned the whole advocate thing to Kellye. His next comment surprised me.

"When I had my review, I told Howie that I wanted to have you be my advocate, since I'd already been using you as a sounding board for ideas, advice, and so on," Kellye said. "Howie said that I should pick someone with more experience, because you and I had the same amount of experience."

My eyebrows arched. "Really? So if someone older than me, licensed or not, wanted me to be their advocate--?"

"I don't think it would carry the weight they wanted," he replied.

I don't envy Ethel at all right now, working for that control-freak interiors gal. But I can't save Ethel from her, or from any other frustration she has. I was hating life while working with Squidwort, but I still had to find a way to transcend it or compartmentalize it. I've heard from both within and without the office that she's not very professional in her emails to consultants, and I'm sure that doesn't help her either. I think I would work better as her informal/unofficial advocate and person-to-bounce-things-off-of, but not as anything official. I can give her tips and advice on writing good emails, but ultimately I can't do anything about her attitudes: I hate this manager, consultants and contractors are a pain in the butt and out to mess up a project and I have to keep them in line, I'm doing stupid/meaningless work. I know she wants my help and support, but there's only so much I can do. I love hanging out with her outside of work--she's fun, funny, interesting, and a delight. But at work, I have to keep a little distance.

1 comment:

ms. kitty said...

I think that's a pretty common problem for people in many professions. When you're friends, it makes it harder to be professionally critical. Sounds like you've made a good decision, Pixie.