I consider the monthly visits to my counselor as an utter necessity for my job performance. Not only because the field of social justice in higher ed has high levels of burnout, compassion fatigue, and turnover. But because my elderly adviser keeps me from losing my calm with my boss (aka Level Boss) and more significantly, my boss’s boss (whom I’ll refer to henceforth as The Superintendent).
Every Monday morning at 8:30am, Level Boss and I meet with The Superintendent to update him on our office’s caseload. Every week I am begrudged, disrespected, and spoken down to. It’s hard not to feel defeated before I have a chance to attempt any positive forward movement with my week. I put up with this treatment because I truly believe that I’m more-than-well-suited for my position and even further, because I have a great passion for the cause that I serve.
Oh, also because I apparently have low professional self worth (per my counselor).
I tirelessly hope that at some point my efforts and talents will be recognized, even privately between my supervisor and myself. Until then, I try to avoid conflict by keeping my head down, continuously refining and improving my job duties, and produce as much output as I can as quickly as possible.
This week, just a few short hours after that dreaded Monday morning meeting, my counselor, Ann, challenged me to change my responses for the overall good of the office (and my mental health). She initially asked how work was going and I launched into all of it. I feel deflated, unappreciated, unseen. I grapple with the fact Level Boss doesn’t seem to like me and am only slightly less than disgruntled that she doesn’t seem to make an effort to support and encourage me.
When Ann inquired about my recent interactions with my boss, I described the passive, lackluster, and formal transactions we share. Level Boss asks me to work on a task, I try my hand at it, I send it back with brief jotted notes requesting whatever edits are necessary. Zero warmth on my end. I shared that after so many months of trying to cajole some positive feedback, I have begun to feel less like a sad puppy just seeking a pat from it’s owner and more like a nonplussed cat who doesn’t give a fuck what’s happening so long as my most basic needs are met.
Ann recommended that I try subtly rephrasing two of our common communications. I was hesitant that I’d sound insincere and unnatural because it would 100% be an insincere and unnatural gesture… but Ann told me this homework was non-negotiable.
The first challenge is to start asking “what do you think is the best way to–” rather than “should I try–” This, Ann acknowledged, is absolutely passive flattery meant more to manipulate her into seeing me as less of a threat and more of a subservient. Both of these facts are true — I don’t want her job and I do answer to her, so I want to perform in a way consistent with her expectations. It also indicates that I’m requesting feedback, I’m seeking knowledge she has. Ann theorizes that if I can get my boss to feel like we’re having an open exchange of ideas, she’ll be more inclined to illicit my perspective and positively reinforce my input.
The second challenge is when I deliver a product of any kind, regardless of how small the task, to respond to any response she gives me with “I’m glad you like it” or “I’m happy you found that helpful.” Again, some subtle wordplay to implant that I’m a vital asset rather than a powerful workhorse.
Do I like Ann because she’s pretty damn kosher with craftily manipulating my boss? Definitely.
Did it bruise my ego when Ann told me she thinks that I downplay my worth at work because I have virtually no self esteem? Kinda (which may go to prove the self worth thing).
Does it seem likely that if I CHEER my boss, she’ll be more likely to CHEER for me, too? Yeah. I suppose. Even if/when it feels like Level Boss is blowing insincere rainbows up my ass, I guess you gotta start somewhere.
I’m happy to report that I’ve seen mild success in this strategy already. I encouraged Level Boss to leave work early after a particularly grueling morning, promising to have her back should The Superintendent came looking for her. While she ignored my suggestion but she did smile and the next day gave me my first ever compliment (“you’re very thorough”). While that may seem like small potatoes to others, I practically skipped out of the room.
Join us as we add SPARK TO OUR WEEKS…
Lin’s VOW mantra: “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” — Bern Williams
Lin’s Song of the Week:
Steph’s story telling event video is too good to miss so be sure to check out her #VOWcheer post here