Sunday, 30 December 2012

Just Being Me...

It's my last day at work before the Christmas break and I am enjoying the Alternative Christmas Lunch I have organised for myself and the 3 other colleagues who were simply unable to attend the department's 'Not Lunch'. We have reached the dessert stage when I happen to mention New Boss's amusing recent public mimicry of my 'posh' voice detailed here. And then I add that IMHO New Boss is a horrid little bully who doesn't seem to have the first clue about how to manage people, and that I no longer have any expectations that he will change or improve.

As we swap taster spoonfuls of chocolate brownies and raspberry panacotta, my three lunch companions uneasily share anecdotes of their own which graphically illustrate New Boss's crude interactions and graceless communications. But then just as we are finishing our coffees and settling the bill, one of my friendly co-workers suddenly suggests that I should 'talk to' New Boss about his new-found fondness for doing impressions, as it is just possible that he is unaware of how I felt about the incident. And the other two agree.

I've never been one to fruitlessly fester over resentments. If something seems to be awry in any of my relationships, I've always thought it better to try and resolve whatever problem has arisen, rather than say nothing and hope it will all get better, or that it will go away. So normally this sort of advice would be right up my street.

But for some inexplicable reason, I find myself demurring...

- Could it be New Boss's comment "that's just silly!" after he had encouraged me to speak to him about my ongoing anxiety symptoms?

- Could it be his helpful exhortation: "you just have to deal with your demons"....??

- Or could it be his failure to do anything about the bullying behaviour of Spiteful Manager towards me, despite the fact that a witness actually provided a statement about it...??!


Nonetheless, despite my misgivings and having been persuaded by my friends, I find myself knocking on New Boss's open door about ten minutes before I am due to escape in the direction of various family festivities. He appears vaguely approachable so I am momentarily emboldened.

"Hello New Boss," I say. "Are you very busy, or may I have a quick word?"

"I'm leaving at half past to catch a train," he says. "But I've got a few minutes".

"Thank you," I say.
I then turn and shut the door.

This has a galvanic effect upon New Boss. Really - it is as if someone has just poked him with a cattle prod ! He sits bolt upright and starts a gabbling monologue, out of which I am only able to distinguish the words "I wasn't talking to you" and "you've misunderstood".

Ah. It would appear that despite the "mimicking" interlude having taken place almost four days previously, New Boss has successfully registered that the incident was not altogether pleasing to me...

Resisting the temptation to clamp my hand over New Boss's mouth, I allow him to babble on for several minutes while I gaze into the middle distance. I take little notice of his repeated insistences that when he repeated the exact words I had said, using exactly the same intonation, he was not actually doing an impression of me. Because if I believed that, then I would still be putting out a mince pie for Rudolph and hanging a stocking at the end of my bed....

Eventually New Boss splutters to a halt. He then looks at me and says helplessly "it's Christmas! Katharine, Katharine. It's Christmas, Katharine!"


"Yes, I know it is Christmas," I say politely. "It is my absolute favourite time of year. I love Christmas." (I very nearly add "because it is the day Jesus was born," but fear that New Boss will interpret this less as an expression of my faith, and more as an opportunity for further derision....).

I take a deep breath, and tell New Boss as calmly and clearly as I can that when he mocks the way I speak in front of colleagues, particularly colleagues who have spent the past year and half being vile to me, he is not only behaving in a manner totally inappropriate to a Head of Department, but he is also appearing to side with people who have tried (and very nearly succeeded) in making my life a total misery.

New Boss begins squawking like a Christmas turkey.

"I was just teasing!" he pleads. (I note the "I wasn't speaking to you" argument appears to have been dropped in favour of the truth...). "I tease lots of people! No-one else minds. X doesn't mind".

New Boss has just made the grievous error of naming a co-worker who has been a particular thorn in my flesh, and I hear my own voice turn frosty.

"This isn't about X," I tell him. "X isn't standing in your office. I am the one standing in your office, and I am telling you how I feel. I do not come to work to be ridiculed, New Boss. I come to work to work".

New Boss changes tack and adopts a whining tone of voice as he utters the Great Rebuttal of every bully (the one that comes second only to: "you've just got no sense of humour").

"The thing is, Katharine," he says. "What you've got to realise is that I am just being me".

At first hearing, this appears an irrefutable defence! New Boss is just being himself, and therefore (by inference) my attempts to curb his natural ebullience and humour are the actions of a churlish, miserable, embittered old boot.

But on second hearing - M'lud please, if I might crave your indulgence for a moment - one is forced to admit that this defence really doesn't stand up to scrutiny...

I am not an expert on the Nuremberg Trials, but I don't recall Ribbentrop or Hess profferring "but I was just being me!" as an excuse for their shining contributions to the Nazi regime. And search my memory as I might for tales from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I can't recall any members of the security forces pleading "but when I sjamboked those defenceless protestors, I was just being me".

Cromwell, Pol Pot, Jimmy Saville...?
Oh my goodness ! I suppose they, too, were just being themselves !!!

Which makes everything OK.

I ponder for a few moments how deeply satisfying the rest of my day might be were I to adopt a similar philosophy.

"When I told Ex-Army Man he was a sycophantic little twat, hey - I was just being me! And when I thwacked Remora across the back of her head with the giant stapler, guess what! I was just being me AGAIN ! And every time I walk into the office and tell the bullies to go and f*** themselves, I am just being ...etc etc" (I think you get the general picture).

I am not a wee girl. I am technically old enough to be a granny. And as I look down on New Boss's flushed and increasingly belligerent phiz, I am pretty sure that I am actually older than he is (though I am buggered if I am going to draw that particular fact to his attention). But when it comes to patiently explaining to a fellow adult that we can't just go through life doing exactly what we want, but that when we become grown-ups, we are required to modify/edit/show self-restraint/be tactful/behave - golly, I really don't know where to start....

I fall back upon my example given in the previous blog post detailed here, as above. I suggest to New Boss that if I was Jamaican or Nigerian or Lithuanian, he would not dream of mimicking the way that I speak. And for the first time, something I say appears to penetrate.

"Oh. Hmm. Yes, you've got a point," he says. "I'm sorry".

Do I twist the thumbscrews, and make New Boss squirm and wince for another ten minutes?
No, no, no.
Because he has apologised.
And because (as New Boss himself has so helpfully reminded me) it is Christmas.

"That's OK," I say. "It's just that I always prefer appropriate behaviour in the workplace".

New Boss decides to have the last word. Oh dear.

"Appropriate by whose standards?" he says, with a spark of defiance. "Who defines what's appropriate?"

"Well, that's not something either of us has to decide, is it?" I reply. "Because it's all been written down for us, inside the Council's many helpful policies. In our "Code of Conduct - Harassment and Bullying" for example. And in our "Code of Conduct for Employees". So I suppose when we're not sure if our behaviour is appropriate, all we have to do is just check what it says in our policies."

New Boss is looking a little bit sick. I expect he is wondering which paragraph of which Code covers "mimicking your own members of staff in order to upset them by making them look stupid".

I look at my watch.

"Oh - your train!" I say. "I mustn't keep you any longer. Thank you so much for listening".
I move to the door and open it, then turn back on the threshold.

"Happy Christmas, New Boss!" I say.
"Happy Christmas, Katharine," he replies.

That's better. Those are Last Words I am more than willing to let New Boss have.

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