Saturday, January 09, 2010

Frankly, my dears...

"I have one," a woman said from two chairs down. I peered around my neighbors at the large table and arched my eyebrow inquisitively. "I admire Katie's honesty. She's the one who says what everyone is thinking - who confronts problems and doesn't waste time on dancing around issues." I grinned even as people nodded, recognizing that people probably did like that about me. It allows them to reap the benefits while retaining their polite manners.

Being wildly impatient and more than a little passionate, I tend to take a very direct approach to getting what I want. It is frustrating to me, therefore, that I get so offended when people figure me out so quickly. I think I have this image in my mind of who I'd like to be - elegant and refined, composed and steady. Yet I pull my hair into ponytails when I'm concentrating - meaning it's rarely down. I think a lot and say what I've decided. Then I argue over it as if it's the end of the world.

When I'm hurt, I'm vicious. I laugh too loud when I think something is funny. I blushed when I met a colleague who works remotely. I stood politely and he said something about it being jarring when a mental image doesn't align with reality. I laughed, thinking he was far shorter than I'd pictured him and he grinned immediately and widely. "I would have known you earlier had you laughed," he said. "It's my favorite part of phone calls you're on."

"Stop," Adam said softly when I was mid-conversation. Over the last 18 months, I've learned to trust him so I ceased speaking mid-sentence and scrambled to exit the conversation. I made my way to where my boss waited and we walked as he said I should relax. I'm open about knowing his new boss isn't all that impressed with me, finding it both disconcerting and hurtful. "First," Adam said, not unkindly, "you're overreacting - it's not that bad. Second, I don't want you singled out as a problem when you're anything but. So lay low, stay quiet and keep your head down." He raised his hand when I opened my mouth. "Just for a little while, Katie. I know it's hard for you. I need you to try."

Having given myself a firm pep talk yesterday morning before entering what promised to be a tense meeting with Adam, his new boss and several other players, I was relieved when our new leader didn't attend. I muted the line in Adam's office and bounced happily in my seat when he said I didn't have to be restrained. "This is stupid," I remarked immediately after unmuting the call. "We decided on this months ago and we still can't make progress! This is asinine." When Adam said we should revisit one of the first steps in a sequence of decisions, I stood up to shout at him. "No going backwards!" I exclaimed, hands on hips and glaring with all I was worth. "We made that decision - and several more afterward - and we are pushing through this final step - not backtracking to waste more meetings on this." Not twenty minutes later, having ranted and threatened until I was nearly exhausted, I had what I wanted.

I rather like throwing tantrums - it's consuming and exciting and what the hell else do I have? But they do wear me out. So I went to the cafeteria to get a candy bar.

"Hey," I greeted some colleagues as they sat at a table near the window. Sighing when seeing evidence of tears from one, I pulled out a chair, glanced at the clock and joined them. I was quiet while they talked, wanting desperately to advise that the wounded party confront and argue and explain. But she was so sad about the event and clearly afraid of what would come of such a conversation that I couldn't make myself do it. Instead, I reached out and patted her hand, curling my fingers around hers when she gripped my palm.

"You're like this," she said, nudging my Snickers with our joined hands.

"Nutty?" I asked, smiling at her.

"Sweet," she corrected and I squeezed her hand. On my way back to my office, I decided that being open to impatience and anger kept me emotionally available for sympathy and affection. And I value that.

"You're quiet," another colleague commented during a break of another lengthy meeting. I nodded and he grinned when I purposely didn't speak for a moment.

"I'm trying out a more gentle approach. Listen. Consider. Think."

"You do that," he said, looking confused. "And then you Speak. I'm missing the Speak." I nodded before thanking him but left the meeting confused about how I want to interact with people. Knowing there's a time and place, I was fine being known for being forthright and emotional about the work. It's sincere and comfortable and I hate to deviate from what has worked.

So what's best? When you think of people who tend toward being open - both professionally and personally - what would you advise?


Brigindo said...

I find it an excellent quality as long as they are also both perceptive (to others' feelings/thoughts) and introspective. I find you to be both.

Psycgirl said...

Growing up I was ridiculously quiet, but when I got to grad school I was able to channel The Speak :) a lot more easily. That being said, my more passive classmates let me do all the talking and criticizing and attempting to improve.... and I was the one who got the reputation for being the oppositional, stubborn, complainer. So my advice when you have this tendency is to put a little pause button in and at least wait a bit before you speak (when you're in a situation where you can) to make sure you have all the info and you're speaking from a rational place. (But there are definitely situations that call for immediate, emotion-driven Speaking!)

Psych Post Doc said...

I can't keep quiet. I try but I have strong opinions and feelings. That being said I also always want to hear what others have to say. I think it's important to strike that balance-- to have your say and to listen to what others have to say.

I think one of the benefits of speaking your mind is that nobody ever wonders where they stand with you. Although it may feel dramatic when you say what you have to say, there's none of that "does she really like me" crap that can go on when you don't share.

It sounds to me like you're doing just fine. Your colleagues know what to expect from you and seem to appreciate that side of you.

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