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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Cup of Coffee, No Cream, Two Sugars

I think my biggest pet peeve is condescension. That and people who honk their horns at you when you are driving the speed limit, because they are stressed and want to get somewhere in a hurry. I always find it amusing that as soon as they overtake you, they come up to a red light and have to sit and wait for five minutes, and after getting all worked up and finally managing to pass you, here they are, a whole five feet closer to their destination. I mean seriously, is it worth it? But I'm getting off topic here.

Let me start by setting the stage for you.

   Setting: corporate office
   Actors: one executive secretary, female; one boss, male

The secretary is sitting at her desk, typing away efficiently. She is the kind of secretary who gets everything done well, accurately, and ahead of schedule. She is very capable in managing her boss' time and projects, she often looks for ways to improve her work environment, and she always makes visitors feel welcome. Her boss is the typical executive in a suit, who lives by the dictates of his cell phone and never replies to emails.

Her boss enters. He comes to her desk, commands her attention, and asks when she will have his letters ready to be signed that he gave her a couple of days ago. He needs those letters to go out in the mail right away. She quietly lets him know that they have been sitting on his desk since yesterday morning, waiting to be signed. They are in the manila folder that is marked "urgent." He pretends not to hear what she has just said, mutters "uhuh" and walks off to his office.

Ten minutes later, her phone rings. He asks her if she can come and pick up the letters. He also needs her to proofread an article he must submit right away. He will be emailing her the article, along with the topic of the next article he has to submit tomorrow. He wants her to write it, in a similar style to the one she will proofread, and he will be giving her all future articles to write. Of course they will be published under his name, but he recognizes that she wants to improve her writing skills and this will be a good opportunity for her.

Immediately after she has picked up the letters and sat back down at her desk, he walks out of his office and to her desk. He tells her she needs to come in on Sunday morning because he will be working on a project and will need her help. He knows this is the third Sunday in a row, and that he wasn't able to stay more than half an hour for the last two Sundays, but he feels like they were able to accomplish a lot and he would like to keep the trend going.

He then asks her to compile statistics on the past five years of the company's profits and compare it to employee hiring. He will need this by Friday as he has a board meeting to share it at. He knows this is something human resources would normally do, but they are swamped right now, so she can get the information from them and put it together.

After he returns to his office, he calls her up to book his next trip to Hawaii for the annual company bonuses award weekend, which is next weekend. She reminds him that she booked the trip two months ago and sent him an email with all the information three days ago.

At the next staff meeting, she asks to be able to share ways the company can improve employee morale, customer service, and careful budgeting. Her presentation is clear and well put together, based on her observations from the past twenty years that she has been working there. After all of five minutes, after which she is cut short with a dismissive "thank you, that was interesting" with no time for discussion, her boss hurries on to the next item on the agenda: whether plastic or paper cups should be used at the water coolers. A full-colour powerpoint presentation is given on the advantages and disadvantages of both and about an hour later, he passes out garish company mugs to everyone with their name and picture emblazoned on them.

Sound familiar? I'd like to clarify that this is merely a stereotype, with the male boss and female secretary, and that it could just as easily have been a female boss and male secretary (though the dynamics would shift slightly). The setting can also take place in a variety of surroundings. The underlying problem, though, doesn't change. Someone is working very hard and someone else appears to view them as worthless and of no value while taking full advantage of them.

I've been learning that when you see a problem, you shouldn't spend your time focusing on the problem, but you should look for a way to solve it. How can we handle this very real problem that may face us on a regular basis, depending on the career we have chosen or the people we must associate with? I don't have all the answers, but here are a few suggestions:

Remove yourself from the equation. This may mean finding a new job, making new friends, or simply saying to the person "I don't appreciate it when you speak to me that way, it makes me feel like I am not valued." Sometimes people don't recognize that they are hurting others, because they themselves didn't learn how to be nice to others.

Recognize that the problem isn't yours. Someone who chooses to belittle others often feels very small themselves. They must "step up on others to feel bigger" is one of the phrases that I have heard and it vividly describes what is happening. Refuse to take responsibility for someone else's low self-esteem and search for ways to encourage yourself and the other person, if it is appropriate. (For example, it wouldn't be appropriate for a young single female secretary to build up the self-esteem of her married male boss.)

Remind yourself that you are valued and God loves you exactly as you are. God is not looking down with condescension, rather, He cares about you and wants to make you happy. He smiles when He sees your diligent work and persistent efforts. He knows that you want to do the best that you can and He is glad to see that.

And finally, promise yourself that you will not be condescending to others but will treat them with respect.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the descriptive example of this issue...I see it a lot, and it irks me as well. We all could use the reminder to avoid condescension!


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