Tuesday, January 8, 2019

She Doesn't Know How Rude She Is

Here we have a common problem. A woman has been called out at work for being arrogant. And yet, her supervisor does not want to share details because that would expose the identities of those who have criticized her.

This tells us that co-workers have already hinted to Anonymous, as she calls herself, about what she is doing wrong, but that she responds by becoming defensive and hostile. It’s like suggesting to a colleague that her sense of style is sorely lacking. She thinks that she is dressed appropriately and has a closet full of outfits that everyone thinks are clownish. She has a vested interest in rejecting all negative judgment. Especially if she lives in a culture that tells her to ignore what other people think of her.

Back in the Freudian day, psycho analysts believed that their patients had become neurotic because they could not accept that they wanted to copulate with their mothers. Patients were resisting the truth of their desire. Nowadays, analytic patients would be seriously disappointed if they learned that they did not want to copulate with their mothers. But, try for an instant to tell them, especially women, that they do not know how to dress appropriately, that their fashion sense is sorely lacking, and they will resist with every last ounce of energy.

If anyone dares suggest that a serious professional woman is dressing like a clown, she will be faced with two choices. She can toss her wardrobe and hire a stylist/shopper to show her how to put together a look. Or she can hunker down within her psyche and condemn anyone who judges her. This will obviously make her work relationships more difficult.

The first response is face-saving. It requires her to admit to having faulty judgment. The second is not. It lets her keep the mask on, curry favor with her illusions and to deny and derogate everyone else’s judgment.

Shaming incites change. And yet, it produces pain. The pain ought to motivate people to change their ways. And yet, nowadays we are more often told, by psycho professionals, that we should ignore what other people think of us. Thus, instead of overcoming shame by changing our appearance, we become defensive. 

At that point, those who might have alerted us to our social miscues will refuse to tell us what we have been doing wrong. They are being tactful and considerate. They do not want to force us to change anything that we do not want to change.

That to introduce a letter written to therapist Lori Gottlieb. To my mind, the solution is contained in the letter. Gottlieb is very tactful about the point. So, see if you can find it:

I recently received some feedback at work, and I'm having trouble adjusting to it. Apparently, some of the things I do at work come off as belittling or arrogant to some of the people I work with. However, I wasn't given any information regarding what exactly I said or did to cause those feelings.

I don't want to do this to anyone, and had no idea that what I was doing was coming off this way. But I feel like without specific feedback, I can't effectively change. I asked for more information, but my supervisor (in the name of anonymity) couldn't tell me much more. As a result, I feel kind of helpless. I want to improve and be a better co-worker, but short of shutting down my personality, I don't really know what to do.

Please help me if you can.

Do you see the problem? It’s in the last sentence of the second paragraph, in the phrase: “short of shutting down my personality.” This tells us that this woman has an obnoxious and grating personality. I suspect that she has been called out on it before, but, like the woman who has no sense of how she looks in clothes, she believes that it’s who she really is. Thus, shutting down her personality feels like denying who she is. It might have been a good idea to remind her that personality is not character. And that personality comes from the Latin word, persona, which means, theatrical mask.

In truth, she does not want help. She does not want to change her personality because she thinks that she is charming and witty and delightful company. It turns out that she is not. She is rude and crude and inconsiderate.

Gottlieb understands that the issue is how to deal with shame. Anonymous rejects criticism because she cannot deal with shame. I don’t think that it helps to discover which childhood experience made her incapable of seeing her flaws, accepting the judgment of other people and effecting real change… but Gottlieb does.

In her words:

That said, depending on how we were given feedback growing up, rather than feeling grateful that our partner wants us to stick around, what we may feel is paralyzing shame. Instead of hearing, “This will make our relationship stronger,” we may hear, “You’re a terrible, unlovable person.” Instead of hearing, “Our relationship is worth improving,” we may hear, “I want a divorce.” And when we hear it that way, we start to feel defensive or terrified or helpless. And then we think, “I don’t do that—I’m not arrogant,” or “Short of shutting down my personality, I don’t really know what to do.”

Dare I say that it is enormously difficult to deal with someone who cannot deal with any criticism, constructive or otherwise. Gottlieb tries tact… which is generally the only possible approach. She recommends that Anonymous step outside herself and examine her behavior as though seen through other peoples’ eyes. This too is a good approach:

Ask yourself: Do you become impatient or short with your colleagues if they don’t understand something the first time you explain it to them? Do you tout your achievements and fail to praise others because you envy (or believe they’re less deserving of) the recognition they get? Do you feel contempt if they choose to go with another idea—one that you consider not as smart as yours? You may not share your feelings directly, but body language is powerful: sighs, grimaces, eye rolls, interruptions, “friendly jokes” at the expense of others, not giving your full attention to people “under” you by glancing at your phone while they’re making a presentation, and so on. Think about whether there are moments when you feel entitled—I’m smarter than that person; I’m more important; I know better—and how that attitude might be communicated in subtle ways.

Gottlieb understands that Anonymous has no inclination and a considerable interest in defending her obnoxious personality. One suspects that friends and family have pointed this out to her before, but surely it is good to tell her to ask those near and dear to her:

If you don’t recognize any of these habits in yourself, ask a trusted family member or friend for feedback. You can say, “Hey, I’ve heard that sometimes I can be perceived as belittling or arrogant at work, and I want to know why. I’d really appreciate your honesty—have you ever felt that way with me, or seen me act that way with others?” And if you’re still friendly with any exes, they’d be excellent sources of information, too.

I will qualify this with one caveat. Finding out what she is doing wrong will not show her how to do things right. Anonymous needs some lessons in etiquette, in good manners, in polite and courteous, even formal behavior. She should take to reading Miss Manners. Bad habits only go away when you replace them with good ones. They do not go away because you become aware of your bad habits.

In the case of the woman whose fashion sense was lacking, the best path forward is to point out that she does not need to change all at once, but that she should go out and buy one outfit that a good shopper or stylist recommends. Something that feels very different from what she usually wears.  And then, to wear it to work one day… and to judge the reaction. If she receives compliments, she will be more likely to take a second step toward better character.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the fact that they cannot reveal details mean that it is one specific person or group who might, rather than being correct, be jealous or otherwise hostile toward her? Doesn't the fact that the one who told her WILL stand behind the one making the accusation -- but not the accused - mean that there might be a personality bias? There is, usually, in office politics, one person or clique that will go behind others' backs and talk about them, but that has nothing to do with their "view" being correct.

This is true in some places to the point of one person feeling isolated because there is a clique talking against them, without ever letting the person know who they are or why they are upset. Often grudges are held for silly reasons when the person being ostracized has no idea why.

I worked one place where everyone loved me. Found out later it was because one man with authority had talked me up to others, who did not know me or my work. I worked another where everyone got silent when I walked into the breakroom, and I was called in for "ambush" meetings, where others had been meeting for an hour and decided the facts before calling me in. That turned out to be because one person had talked me down and others in her group, without ever knowing me, believed her and put the chill on. Took a long time to even find out why.

Just my opinion, and I didn't read the original, but you can bein a draining, hostile work environment for years and never know why you're the designated "villain"....then go elsewhere and watch the same thing happen to someone else.

Anonymous said...

I think this letter was from man.

Doug Cranmer said...

Vox Day has an interesting hierarchy of personality types.

This is a recent discussion. Amusing. Don't be the gamma.


Ares Olympus said...

I agree the writer probably is playing innocent, and probably has some ideas what might be causing problems, but I can understand why she'd like specifics.

One approach might be to talk one-on-one to each of her closest coworkers, and mention the anonymous complain and even repeat it verbatim to avoid misinterpreting, and then either ask for specific examples of her behavior that might apply, while promising herself to not try to challenge the observations, but only ask for clarifications. I'm sure it would be a difficult task, but its not what an arrogant person would do.

But after she's gathered the observations, she can take them to another person close to her, or even a life coach, and talk about which ones seem most important, and what changes are within her control to make things better. And then she could make a plan of action to try to change her behavior and see what happens, see if others are also acting any different or comment on her new style of interaction.

Finally after a few months, if she needs more feedback, she can again talk to key coworkers one-on-one, and ask for feedback, if they see improved behavior, and what she still might need to work on. Again, none of this is how an arrogant person would act, and even if she decided she didn't need all the changes, the new practice will give her more choices how to act, so she doesn't just have one persona that needs defending.

Kansas Scout said...

My Sister in law is in this situation. At work she was written up for the same behavior. Her response was to go on the attack. She is well known for her difficult personality. She no longer has any friends. She sent the family into chaos Christmas Eve. Her husband recently angrily her and confronted her negative behavior. His family is a staunch German Catholic very conservative family. She routinely makes an ass of herself in their family gatherings. She was chastened for a while but she always returns to her typical behavioral style. She has been in and out of "therapy" in years past. She has little to no insight into her behavior. She alienates everyone around her. She will never change. So far, no level of pain coming her way has changed her much.

Anonymous said...

I am with 2:08pm Anon on this one. Lack of specifics may indeed be just as likely to be caused by some individual/clique bad-mouthing the person given the feedback, without any option to face the accusers, and provide their side of the story to the vague accusations. Look up this situation on "ask a manager" website, lots of people had discussed their experiences in such situations.

I would not side immediately with the accusers.

Anonymous said...

To add, sometimes a malicious manager can be expressing what he/she personally dislikes as such anonymous vague feedback. The person receiving such feedback will be induced to become paranoid/mis-trustful even if he/she weren't in the past.

A bit of due process could go a long way. Furthermore, if the individual who is piled on belongs to a government defined protected class, then this may become legally defined as "hostile work environment", with a subsequent lawsuit.

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