Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Me Talk Big One Day (A Hump Day Hmm for 2-20-2008)


Image source and story of image: National Galleries of Scotland

If you were to ask me, I'd tell you that I tend to say things other people dare not say. I speak my mind. I don't always coat my words with a generous dollop of ass kissing.

Many people consider averted eyes, swallowed words, and sugar coating their due. Skipping this is perceived as disrespectful.

It never quite got me to bite my tongue, though, even at times I perhaps should have. I was bold, arrogant, and defensive about this, as the youth often are about their immaturity.

But as I entered my mid-thirties and beyond, I began noticing a disturbing pattern: a tendency to swallow my words and sugarcoat.

Was this maturity? Wisdom? Or was it a desire to please? Was I tired and worn down?

I sat down and looked backwards---Russo-style, through the opposite end of the telescope---and tried to figure out if I'd ever been as bold out loud as I was in my mind.

Was I? Had I been? Could I be? Should I?

I believe I was.

Perhaps I should have spoken sooner, more diplomatically, more wisely, with better technique, or less judgment, and so forth. It may not always have been done well or on time, but when it needed to be done, quite often, I did speak up.

My current loathing and avoidance of speaking up is understandable, I allowed. It has cost me, at times dearly. Speaking up is rarely well-received. People do not often like differences of opinions, being called on their prevarication, or having to confront critical thinking.

The child who called out that the Emperor was naked never won any popularity contests, not to mention, he was merely a walk-on character in that play. I ought to know; when we did it in my youth, that play, I was Fishwife. The little boy walked in front of me to deliver his line. You might think this an odd placement of characters: a small boy delivering a single crucial line in front of a fishwife, known for her loudness. And yet? Was I loud? No. I was an ironically silent fishwife.

Let's not dissect the potential layers of meaning in that casting.

I consider myself like that child--the one who called it like it was---more so than any other character in that story, at least in my wishful thinking. The truth is, though, that the casting was spot on: I'm really, generally, actually the largely silent fishwife, only occasionally shrieking.

But at least I shriek occasionally, and at least I'm getting better about the when and the how.

So, with a gut reaction of "take it on babe!" and a lifetime of feedback that screams "no, no, never confront! passive aggressive at most! really! swallow it down! get ulcers! die in a graceful swoon on a divan, suffocated under the weight of Words Never Said! but never. ever. take it on!" what do I do with the scenarios I offered up to you?

Scenario 1: People make plans in front of me that exclude me.

If I were a sort of person who actually deserved a name like Julie, I might offer a snappy yet friendly and chipper comeback such as, "And me? Shall I bring the clown or the balloons? Because even though I seem to have missed out on the invitation, I can be there with bells on!" or whatever it is that actual chipper people with charisma say that others find so endlessly amusing and appealing.

Instead, to be honest, I hold my tongue. I walk away and analyze it to death, then I revive it and analyze it some more. I dissect it until I can't stand the sight or smell of it any longer and the sound of my own thoughts makes me want to take a vacation from me.

I will likely decide I have failed.

In a egoistic flailing of massive overestimation of self power and importance, I will assume it is all my fault: I haven't been outgoing enough, friendly enough, called and chatted on the phone often enough, extended enough invitations, and so forth. I'll wallow in self-loathing and sense of failure. Finally, I'll decide I am making too much of it.

Then, I'll do a banner job of convincing myself this is a tempest in a teapot, a momentary aberration (hopefully) that doesn't cancel out the good side. I'll excuse it, convince myself that, while it's annoying, saying anything will only make it worse. Least said, soonest mended, I'll remind myself.

Then some tiny and quiet shard of sense will become larger and louder, "But they were RUDE and you didn't want to go ANYWAY so what's the BFD here? Let's go have us a Weight Watchers One Point Chocolate Mint Patty and watch some American Idol. Now THERE'S a good time."

Later, when trapped in a car with my good friend on this thing that is allegedly a highway called the Gulf Freeway but that, by all appearances, is actually really simply a large, pollution inducing parking lot, she and I will indulge our mutual bad habits of this together and will decide we are each FINE and it is the rest of the world that is SCREWED UP.

Thus reassured by our own hubris, we'll sing "Come On Eileen" and "Our House" and will trade silly stories, trying to one up each other's horror show as moms.

Scenario 2: In our clubhouse, No Boys Are Allowed

I'd assert my opinion. I would! My opinion would be: let the dad in. I might deliver it seriously, a la, "You know, it's really the good thing to do to include him. Imagine how isolated he must feel. We should try to balance, maybe include a few dads." I might deliver is humorously, "A little injection of testosterone might be just what this estrogen laden coop needs."

However. If the majority expressed a discomfort with it, I'd bow to that. I'd swallow my own discomfort with that stance, and work hard to rationalize how it is okay. I'd delve through understanding their points of view, and remind myself that they are nice, and my friends. I'd do this because I'd likely want to remain a part of the group.

Still, it's hard for me to imagine remaining close with a group for the long-run that would deliberately exclude, especially on the basis of something so tied to discrimination.

Lonely can be hard, but self-loathing by virtue of being part of a "mean" group is worse.

Luckily, I haven't been in this position. I am a member of a mom's club and we have attempted to include or entice dads (and anyone) to join. Amazingly enough, despite bold words to the contrary in their youth, most men do not actually fantasize about being the only male in a group of females. Our group talks now and again about how to make the group more palatable for all parents.

Scenario 3: Slacker Maids

This is tough. I've gotten skeevy about confronting service providers until I have an ace (or alternative) up my sleeve. This is because I've found they can be nastily defensive and tend to offer you walking papers if you don't take them as they come. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. And I don't mean that in any kind of good way. I am stunned these last few years by how pitiful customer service has become. I am shocked by how pathetically grateful I am when any customer service situation ends up pleasant, with a good resolution that is win-win.

Current customer service technique seems to be: never let the customer win.

With a new baby, sleep deprivation, and so forth, I'd probably spin so well I'd nearly convince myself there wasn't a problem that needed solving.

Then I'd feel horribly guilty for not making sure my mother got her money's worth.

I'd berate myself with a long string of "should dos" such as confront the service, alert my mother, and so forth. I'd anticipate potential reactions until I made it so huge that I shut down from being overwhelmed and anxious about what would happen, such as losing the service (and I bet I'd think some service was better than none).

I'd like to think that I would trust the people around me to handle the truth, told nonchalantly, "Hey, Mom, you know? That service doesn't seem to be doing all they should. Should we call them? You? me? Together? What do you think?"

But I'm afraid I'd instead worry overmuch about burdening my generous mother and about dealing with an annoying service that might taunt me into Rash Action Born of Flashpan Anger.

And those of you who have tempers? You know what Flashpan Anger is and what can come of it.

I've spent a lot of years tempering the temper.

Scenario 4: Bad service provider

This scene torques my sense of justice (or injustice). I'd be constitutionally incapable of letting it slide. I'd write---on paper, in drafts, or in my head---24 responses and scenes in which Comeuppance Happened. Then I'd realize we are in the real world where people still think denying wrongdoing mitigates culpability. And I'd delete them all, then ponder the diplomatic way to go forward.

May I digress for a moment?

I pseudo-ghostwrote (did get writer credit...inside, small print, copyright page) a book once predicated entirely on the proof positive postulation that 'fessing up and saying sorry decreases lawsuits. Seriously! Here's what happened. A fellow editor and I were chatting one day. "Isn't this amazing, Julie," he said to me, "Look at this: saying I'm sorry decreases lawsuits by X (I forget) percentage. Isn't that incredible? Imagine what we could do for the medical profession if someone wrote a book explaining this to them." Hmm. So we did. Of course we needed Big Names on the cover (other than our own, which were, you know, a big who cares) and some helpful forewords from attorneys, who were really nice to work with. We didn't simply explain the "I'm Sorry" phenomenon, we created an entire procedure that taught medical professionals and providers how to do it, legally.

The point of this story is to emphasize the amazing power and positive results of a well-deployed, "I'm sorry."

It usually is a "get out of jail free" card when sincerely offered after a faux pas; we've all felt regretful after a thoughtless, clueless, or mannerless act.

It can save. It can make friends. It can strengthen all sorts of relationships, from business to personal.

Defensive posturing, denial of responsibility, and refocusing blame on the complainant usually does not. That probably makes enemies, whether you know it or not at the time.

I believe in this strongly. If you can't respect our equal roles in this business relationship, you aren't someone I can work with long-term. Trust will be a major issue.

That said, I also believe strongly in allowing sympathy, understanding, and most importantly, the ability to save face. I let go of this only when I deem a situation a hopeless cause, and/or lose the battle with my Flashpan Anger.

I will extend my hand, with this understanding and opportunity to repair and save face.

People who take it up? Our partnership remains.

People who don't? Not so much.

So in the end...

Is it funny that I allow so much gray and complexity into personal relationships and am so straightforward and confident about business?

What did you say about how you use your words? (Remember, this week, as an incentive...I'll draw a name from the participants and the winner of the drawing can choose between an 8x10 art print or editing help on a post.)


Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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35 comments:

Robert said...

I only wrote on one scenario, but it was an actual experience of what I did say, which compares poorly to what I felt like saying at the time.

Your scenario 1, though, was something I felt like I dealt with in high school two times in my senior year. First, a bunch of my friends held a birthday party for someone else (whose birthday was earlier) on my birthday, then got mad at me for not coming to their party (amazingly childish). The galling thing that makes the story stick out in my mind, they thought I wanted to kill myself over their slight. Just nutty. Then the graduation party held at the same house, even though I lived almost within sight of the house... I was somehow excluded. It set the tone for the beginning of my summer, because I left the country for two weeks the next day, and when I got back it felt like everyone was gone. It took a year for me to ask them "why didn't you invite me?" but I did, to my credit. Their explanation: we thought we did. So it goes.

I'm totally with you on being irritated by poor service. I am also too much of a person who lets it slide more often than not. I had too many friends who did things to the food of complaining customers in the fast food business. I am sure, though, that my insurance company has a tag on my file that says "do no piss off" because I've had plenty of irate calls to them over their costly mistakes.

So, in short, I'm a mixed bag. Great posting ideas today, though.

Angela said...

Will be back after I get the kids dressed and escape to work!

SciFi Dad said...

Either I "completely missed the point", or I "took a unique perspective". You be the judge.

Like you, I have "softened" since I hit my 30s. However, unlike you, I still can't hold my tongue... I just do it with less profanity now than before.

melissa said...

k I'm up.....but I'll have to come back and read later...

Sober Briquette said...

I've got to come back and read later, too, but I saw your final line - I'm found that I was less confrontational with friends than with business relationships.

Robert said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention, remember that "friend who lived with us that eventually needed to leave" that I mentioned back on the post about problems between married people post (vague, I'm sure, but hopefully you remember). Her generally poor service in pulling her own weight around the house (living with free room and board in exchange for a little help around the house was just too much to ask) certainly contributed a lot to the tension that built between her and my wife. She would complain we had nothing to eat (in the hopes we'd go out) when the fridge and cupboard were full of groceries bought the day before. She would let me cook and clean up after meals constantly... just a lot of little things slowly drove my wife and me nuts. I meant to put this in my original comments here, but my daughter needed to get to school. :)

le35 said...

I will do my post when I get back today, but this is a big deal to me. I would like to stand up for myself more.

Family Adventure said...

Numero uno -- I could have written myself! I so get that, I feel like I was in that car with you and your friend.

And onto your final comment...there's definitely more emotion involved - more insecurity - when dealing with friends and family. When it's straight business, a stranger you are likely never to meet again, you don't worry as much about perception/impression. You just care about achieving your goal.

Heidi

mommybytes.com said...

Wow, I didn't expect you to expound on all four scenarios, but then I must have forgotten that you were Julie Pippert, saying something about everything and then some. In terms of speaking up, I have a mom who speaks up in EVERY situation. I have seen where it has landed her in hot water many times and how conflict was created where there needn't be any. So I learned early on that the way to communicate with people is to create understanding and consensus. This is something that I pride myself in and even my mom has commended me on it. It's not sugar-coating or biting my tongue, it is seeking first to understand then be understood.

In terms of poor service, I am so grateful that my husband has no issues confronting people on it, because I'm not the one to do it!

And one time in junior high, I was clearly not invited to a party and actually called them during the party to make them squirm. My mom questioned whether that would be a good idea (well she had good judgment in that case), but I insisted. They squirmed, said I could come over but I didn't. Things were never quite the same afterwards and I learned that their failure to invite me was a reflection on them and not me and not to take is so personally next time.

liv said...

#1 is why I feel you're kin.

really.

Andrea said...

I read a book last weekend called "Predictably Irrational" that touches on the difference between social-norm relationships and market-norm relationships, and why it is we act so differently in the former than the latter. So no, I don't think it's strange at all--it sounds normal to me. :)

But don't get the book. It was generally not worth it. Library, or paperback; preferably library.

wheelsonthebus said...

I have noticed the "I'm sorry" thing. It actually shocks people when I admit wrongdoing.

Robert said...

Julie, something on one of the responders today reminded me of a case where Using My Words really cost me, so I had to contribute a second post. I know I've done that twice, but your topics are just engaging. I've enjoyed all the posts I've read so far today.

Annie said...

I think maturity brings both the understanding of when it is best to engage the 'social filter' and be less outspoken, but also the confidence at certain times to stand up and speak out against something that isn't right.

I do it both ways, and wrote about them on my own post today.

We have some similarities in how we handle these situations.

Off to read everyone else's contributions.

Ria said...

I also noticed the I'm sorry thing in my last job. I was placed on probation for not meeting a standard. I was upset and verbal about it because I didn't believe the numbers. It took two weeks to get the numbers for me to verify the truth. I wasn't meeting the standard. I sincerely apologized and went back to work. That apology changed my life.

The manager and the supervisor were both shocked when I turned in my resignation a few weeks later. Frankly, so was I.

My apology brought to light the fact that I wasn't apologizing to keep my job. I was apologizing because I was wrong. Wrong to stay in a job in which I found no pleasure in doing. Wrong to only be using the job just to get the paycheck and wrong to be keeping myself in a place in which I had become disenchanted.

It is amazing what a sincere apology can do.

Angela said...

So tough about scenario #1, I have been in the situation you described in your last post, two other Moms discussing a party that didn't include my daughter, I said nothing,felt sad and analyzed it to death, went through a whole range of emotions. My daughter's reaction,she was fine with it. Did I mention she's much more mature than I am(she's 10)
It's amazing how much a sincere "I'm sorry" or acknowledgement of injustice, error or ineptitude can do, especially with customer service reps and colleagues.

Gwen said...

I get your reaction to #1, but I would be done with the whole thing in 30 seconds. That's progress, right?

And speaking of sharp tongues, I was going through some old letters that my mom saved from my childhood: ooh, I am quite the charmer.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I took a totally different approach on the topic, mostly because I already had my post written and it sort of fit today's topic!

But on the customer service thing...My mother-in-law will tell you that even the bad customer service she gets here is better than what she got living in France. She once went to a store to buy an aluminum pot for something. It was on a top shelf, and she needed someone to get it down for her. Once she found someone who could be pried away from their very important work of looking bored, she showed them what she needed. They got the pot only after giving her a disdainful look and telling her that NO ONE cooks in aluminum pots. You'd think they didn't want the money they would make from selling it. Anyway, my MIL is a woman who uses her words well, all the time, and she let them (and probably a lot of other poor French people) know exactly how she felt about it. I think she walked out of the store without buying the pot. She gets in trouble with her mouth, but sometimes I wish I could be more like her and less of a conflict avoider.

Lawyer Mama said...

You know, that is exactly how I am. If someone just fesses up and apologizes instead of trying to shift blame or getting all defensive, they'll keep my business. Otherwise, bye bye. And I'm not shy about telling them that. That's my problem. Sometimes I should just quietly go away and I can never do it. Injustice, however small and petty it may be, always gets my goat.

PunditMom said...

It's funny, but as I get older (especially the last few years), I have become just the opposite -- tending to say just exactly what I think about a situation, even if it's not the most proper or courteous thing to do.

I'm just tired -- tired of being the nice girl and staying quiet and letting people ignore me or my feelings. Even in my marriage, and while it makes me feel good on a certain level and make me feel more true to myself, I wonder if I'm doing damage to important relationships??

thailandchani said...

I'm not even sure it's a question of what we say.. but how we say it.. and the reasons we say it.

melissa said...

Man...you better be right about the "I'm sorry"or I am just screwed.

But ya know...I'm glad I said what I said. I meant every word. The only thing I'm sorry about is the way she found out, not what I said. She needs to know how she acts affects others.

Kathryn said...

I am similar to you in this way. Most of the time I try to use humor to bring up touchy situations. Unless it is a bad service provider situation. Those really make me angry. I remain calm for as long as possible. If the manager just apologizes and takes care of it, fine. I'm happy. But if nothing is done, someone will get a piece of my mind. It comes from working in the customer service industry for too long. :)
Great post!

a. beaverhausen said...

I say I'm sorry when the situation calls for it, but I don't say it just to grease the wheels. I say more of what's on my mind as I get older than I ever have before.

dharmamama said...

I started writing a post, then it just wouldn't come out right. I've learned to speak my truth, with compassion, and also to not take much personally, even when it's meant personally. I just don't mess around with the head games... on my good days. lol Life's too short for bullshit. I think most non-invites are just forgotten, not personal shafts. I have no problem inviting myself or kids somewhere if something's going on. If the vibe is that it *is* personal, we talk about it. My friends and I all value honesty, even when it hurts.

I've completely changed how I deal with customer service stuff since reading this article:
http://tinyurl.com/33pka6 about using jedi mind-control on CSRs. I've used her method twice, and each time got what I wanted. Even though I was shaking, and re-reading the article while I was on the phone!

Even though I'm from the south, I think my attitude is *not* southern. But people who prevaricate and hide things (agendas, feelings) and I just don't... mix. Who has time? Life is NOW.

Well, dang - guess I wrote my post here.

Angela said...

I agree with Chani--how you say what you need to say makes all the difference. I feel honored, in many ways, when people express their displeasure with me. It makes me feel good that people feel they can be honest...that they value our relationship enough to let me know where I've misstepped, so I can repair the damage. And when I confront others with in a similar fashion and my concerns fall on defensive ears or a closed mind? It often makes me realize that the person I'm confronting doesn't really value our relationship as much as I need or want them to.....because I usually try to be kind. Um. Yeah. Usually.

Lisa b said...

Julie these posts you inspired have been very interesting reads.

I think I was similar to you and spoke out more when I was younger. I am trying to find a balance between saying what is right and saying it in a way people will hear what I am saying.I'd never heard of Flashpan anger but I do think it an apt description.

Those maids totally deserve to be fired but I too have to back down on those fights when I know I don't have the strength to fight it to the end and once I have started I don't know how to stop.

Aliki2006 said...

I'm learning to speak out more now that I'm older but, as you will see in the post I wrote, it's still very much a work in progress.

Sigh.

Suz said...

I was planning to answer these, but my answers started getting more and more complex. To boil it down, I talk a big game to my friends, but have a hard time using my words when faced with an actual confrontation.

jen said...

i tried to come up with a good way to answer this but i found myself projecting instead of getting it clear. weird, that, so i stopped and went back to reading.

Robert said...

I think a lot of people (often including myself) can be like Suz - talk big game to their friends but back down in real situations - but I keep feeling reminded of You've Got Mail when I read that. Meg Ryan's character always wished she could speak up, only once she did she felt bad about it. There's a reason people don't speak out, and it's often their conscience as much as anything. They don't want to be rude and feel guilty for it later. The problem is, all too often it is the people they're worried about being rude to who are already being rude. It's not always true, but it very often is the case, and calmly expressing displeasure with someone being rude (in the friends' or professional settings) or providing poor service (in the professional settings) can get the point across without returning the enmity.

Mama Drama Jenny, the Bloggess said...

I'm too soft. My coworkers call me a doormat.

But someone has to be, you know? If the whole world was full of people who weren't afraid to speak their minds with no one to just nod while secretly thinking "You are a dumbass" then the whole world would collapse.

I may have missed the point here.

Are my comments always the stupidest ones here? Because it totally feels that way.

thordora said...

I didn't do this one because I either genuinely don't get worked up by this stuff, or I don't get in the situations in the first place. People make plans without me-they're rude, but I don't get that upset. I'd prefer to not be invited that to be invited to something that no one wants me at.

Groups of women-I try to stay away from those IRL. And I'd just quit if that happened.

Companies though-if they piss me off-I let them know and shop somewhere else.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

ooo - that first one gets me all the time.

ewe are here said...

Ahhh, I should have done this Hump Day challenge...

Scenario 1. I am well familiar with. It happened to me all the time growing up, because I never fit in, and I still see it all the time because I'm always 'the new' person... sigh. I suppose I'm lucky that my childhood prepared for me this in a way, because I refuse to cave and be like them just to get an invite.

Scenario 2. Drives me nuts. Playgroups are supposed to be about the kids, too, and why should kids with SAHDs or dads who want to be involved in their kids lives get screwed out of socializing because some mommies want to exclude the dads. Pisses me off. Makes me think that these moms have a double standard: they want dads to be involved, but only on their terms.

Scenario 3: Drives me nuts, too. I'd fire them... plenty of cleaning competitors out there. Hell, doing it myself would be easier than watching someone take my money and not do anything!

Scenario 4: Service has gone down the tubes in so many places. They really just don't care. I don't get it.