Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Plain Speaking

I just got through reading Ozzy’s blog for today, and damn that guy raised some good points.

Go read it. I can wait.

Basically, this got me thinking. ‘Plain Speaking’, good or bad thing?

I’ve got to begin by saying that although I’m a huge advocate of plain speaking, there are some people who are just plain rude, and say they ‘tell it like it is’, as though that excuses really bad manners. I’m not one of those people. “That is a terrible idea.” Is plain speaking. “You look like a hippo in those shorts.” Isn’t.

In my last job, if I’d stayed there, I would have shot myself in the metaphorical career foot due to plain speaking. Here’s what happened.

I was working on a section of about 12 people. Me, one other guy and 10 ladies. We had a staff meeting. Our regular boss was away for a week, so the next most senior staff on the section took over in his absence.

Long story short, I was asked to move to another desk to make room for some trainees we’d be overseeing. I noticed however, that this idea made no sense. For me to move where I was asked to would have meant that 4 people would have to change desks. Trying to be helpful, I pointed out that if only one of the girls moved, everything would work out pretty much the same.

The stand-in manager looked worried, and said that no, I had to move.

I smelled something fishy.

I finally wheedled it out of her. Apparently, me and the other guy on the section ‘talk too much’, were being ‘disruptive’, and I had to move because of that.

I wasn’t happy. You see, I didn’t talk too much. (In the end, our real manager kept an eye on things and told me it just seemed that way because my voice, along with the only other male on the section’s voice stood out against all the female voices).

I was expected to say “Yes sir.” Move and have done with it. I didn’t. I refused to move and complained to the head honcho. I know this sounds really petty, but here was the thing:

  1. I was being moved for something I hadn’t done.

  2. I wasn’t told why I was being moved because my boss was too chicken-shit to tell me.

  3. If I had been moved, I knew everyone on the section, would have talked just as much, and got a reputation as a ‘problem staff-member’ for something I didn’t do.

Basically, I couldn’t care less if I got moved or not, it was the principle of the thing.

So I wrote an official complaint.

My boss tried to treat it like a big joke. He tried to make out that the reason I was complaining was because I didn’t want to be moved away from my ‘friend’. The fact that I knew everyone else on the section and got on with them just as well didn’t seem to factor in.

This is where the ‘plain speaking’ came in. What I said was:

“I’m sorry, but this is a load of crap. I know for a fact that no-one on the section has complained about me. We know each other well enough that if I was disturbing one of them, they’d have just asked me to keep it down.

“I asked around. Me moving is because a manager from a different section walked past and decided to put their oar in. She decided that from a 3 second glance I was being ‘disruptive’.

“I’ve sat at my desk and watched you sit and talk about what you did at the weekend, what you watched on TV and all other kinds of things for two hours straight. I talk to the guy next to me while I’m actually working, and suddenly I’m a disruptive influence! I’m sorry, but I’m not going to move just because some prick from next door decides that she wants to make herself feel powerful.

“What’s more, I wasn’t actually told I was being moved for this reason, ‘stand in’ made up some story about needing space. If I hadn’t forced it out of her, would I have been moved over and over, each time getting a black mark on my record until I got fired?”

The answer was priceless. After a 20 second blank stare he actually said: “I didn’t know that ‘Stand In’ didn’t tell you.” He tried to dismiss it. “You know what she’s like, she doesn’t like confrontation.”

“Well, if we’ve got a boss who is too shit scared to say something that might potentially upset or offend an employee, what is the blue hell is she doing in charge? ” I replied.

In the end, I didn’t get moved, but I was pretty much black-balled the rest of the time I was there. Twice I got called to see my manager because of something I said, usually taken completely out of context. Here’s an example:

Don’t ask me how but someone called ‘Stand In’ the ‘police’ of our section. I quipped, “But who polices the police?” someone else said: “Yeah, but who polices the police who police the police?” I replied. “In that case, who polices the police who police the police who polices…” You get the idea. (I know, weak assed joke, I was tired and it had been on the Simpsons the night before).

Two days later I got called to see my manager. Apparently my ‘joke’ was actually designed to offend and hurt ‘Stand In’, and implied that she wasn’t trustworthy.

This time I stood up halfway through the meeting, put my hand up and said:

“Look, I’m not taking any more of this. You tell whoever it is that likes running to teacher, that if I offend them in any way, tell me about it, and I’ll stop. Tell them to talk to me, not wait a couple of days and go and inform you. I’d also suggest that they grow a sense of humor, because if anyone is that thin skinned that they can’t take something that was so obviously a joke, they’ve got no business being around people.”

“That’s not the point, the point is…” started my manager. I interuppted

“That despite the fact that this joke went around the entire section, with everyone adding another ‘police’ to it, that I’m the only one who got called to see you?”


This even extended to our customers. We where supposed to sit there and take streams of abuse, and any retaliation was an instant sacking offence. This lead to the idea being spread that if you called up your benefits office and screamed loudly enough, you’d get your way. Become a big enough pain in the ass that we’d put you to the head of the queue just to get rid of you. Put it this way, in ‘real life’ about 70% of the calls I got at work would have been told to fuck off, and been hung up on.

To end today’s post, I’ll say this.

Everyone has become so concerned with not offending anyone that now we waste huge amounts of our time by coddling people and telling them what they want to hear. The boss has a terrible idea that wastes huge amounts of time and money, that gets implemented anyway, because no-one wants to tell them they’re wrong. People on tech support waste hours because they’re not allowed to say “Shut up and listen to me. I’m right and you’re wrong. If you know so much about computers, why did you bother to call me? You can either do as I say, or go waste someone else’s time.”

I’m not saying be rude of have bad manners. Just say “I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. I know what I’m talking about and it wouldn’t work.” Rather than “That’s a very interesting idea, and has merit, but there are one or two problems.”

Ozzy paraphrased a joke on his blog, here’s the full version which illuminates my (our) point nicely:

You say: “This is shit, it absolutely stinks”
With ‘tact’: “This is fertilizer, and it smells bad”
Which leads to: “This will make us grow, and has a potent smell”
Then: “This is good, and has very strong attributes.”
Eventually: “This is a great idea, and is incredibly powerful.”

Let me apologise to Ozzy for stealing his topic, and maybe putting words in his mouth, but there’s nothing wrong with plain speaking. In some instances what’s best for the group is more important that you’re feelings.

1 comment:

OzzyC said...

No apologies necessary sir. I'm happy to have given you fodder for today's post. It's funny that you chose this as a title and topic though, because one of my draft posts is entitled "Plain Spoken" and I had planned to write something similar to what you said... even taking my life experiences and extrapolating them to a broader level.

So, when you see that post, I hope you don't get the idea that I'm plagarizing your material.