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Author Topic: Help me be tactful  (Read 45784 times)
drgrabow
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« Reply #15 on: May 02, 2012, 4:24:17 PM »

She does not have a diagnosis of "hypochondria" nor am I qualified to make it.  She has not requested an accommodation for it, and in fact - would strenuously object to my assessment that it is her problem. As I mentioned in the first post, she's a pretty negative person about her persona life.  What is more frustrating is that she expresses stress, concern, etc for each situation in her life.  For example, she was taking her daughter to a concert.  She talked about dreading it for weeks.  "It'll be so hot and crowded."  "Parking is going to be such a nightmare."  It took a while before I noticed, she is actually excited about this concert and this is how she expresses it. There was something in her psyche that won't let her admit that she is looking forward to it. I actually tried to talk to her about that in a good natured way.  She wasn't very receptive to it.  I started to feel like I was mucking around in her personal life and let it go.  That was my mistake.  

She has a list of real or imagined illnesses.  It just gets to be exhausting.  I think for the students, the issue is that the atmosphere is relentless.  They expend a lot of mental energy to her issues because they don't realize that this is her "normal" mode.  I've learned to ignore it over time and have become more immune.  I work with my door closed often.  I've never done that at anyplace else that I have worked.

I guess that's what seems to be the emergency on my part.  I feel badly that I've let this get to this point.  Our current student worker's last day is Friday.  I plan to discuss this with the early AA next week. After that, she has a week off.  I hope that giving her some personal time to deal with it will keep the negativity out of the office.  As for ruining her vacation, she really isn't taking a vacation.  And somehow, I suspect that this will provide her with something she desires.  The chance to stew over something for a week.  

Sorry if that sounds harsh.  
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drgrabow
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« Reply #16 on: May 02, 2012, 4:28:17 PM »

As for who is more valuable, the AA or the student workers.  I hope to continue to work with my AA for years to come.  Yet, this isn't one student.  The past three student workers have all tried to tell me how difficult she has made the work environment for them.  Unfortunately, I dismissed it out of loyalty to my AA. I think that it's unfair to have expectations of her that I don't share.  It's time for a serious discussion about this issue.
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #17 on: May 02, 2012, 4:57:45 PM »

As for ruining her vacation, she really isn't taking a vacation.  And somehow, I suspect that this will provide her with something she desires.  The chance to stew over something for a week.  

Sorry if that sounds harsh.  

You're not sorry, or you wouldn't have pressed "post."

It does sound mean-spirited, at the least. I am beginning to wonder about the reliability of the narration. I suspect this is not a one-person problem. But you have already decided how you are going to handle it, and seem resistant to any other possible interpretation of the situation, so I am not quite sure why you are asking for help being tactful. What you really seem to want is permission NOT to be tactful.


VP
« Last Edit: May 02, 2012, 4:58:02 PM by voxprincipalis » Logged

tinyzombie
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« Reply #18 on: May 02, 2012, 5:01:22 PM »

As for ruining her vacation, she really isn't taking a vacation.  And somehow, I suspect that this will provide her with something she desires.  The chance to stew over something for a week.  

Sorry if that sounds harsh.  

You're not sorry, or you wouldn't have pressed "post."

It does sound mean-spirited, at the least. I am beginning to wonder about the reliability of the narration. I suspect this is not a one-person problem. But you have already decided how you are going to handle it, and seem resistant to any other possible interpretation of the situation, so I am not quite sure why you are asking for help being tactful. What you really seem to want is permission NOT to be tactful.


VP

If it's not a vacation, then why did you use the word "vacation"? And why do you seem to know so many things about her ("she's not really sick," "she'd probably love something to worry over")?

Also, what VP said.
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dr_prephd
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« Reply #19 on: May 02, 2012, 5:06:37 PM »

She does not have a diagnosis of "hypochondria" nor am I qualified to make it.  She has not requested an accommodation for it, and in fact - would strenuously object to my assessment that it is her problem.

As she should, since you are not qualified to diagnose her. You can only evaluate her on what you see and hear. You hear her talking a lot about her health. That's all you have.

 I hope that giving her some personal time to deal with it will keep the negativity out of the office.  As for ruining her vacation, she really isn't taking a vacation.  And somehow, I suspect that this will provide her with something she desires.  The chance to stew over something for a week.  

Seriously? I do think this sounds mean-spirited. Presumably, she's taking a vacation from work, whether or not that counts as a "vacation" in your mind, let her have one.

Perhaps a conversation *after* the vacation will be better for both of you.



Sorry if that sounds harsh.  
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macadamia
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« Reply #20 on: May 02, 2012, 5:37:12 PM »

I do wonder if this is a cultural issue. I come from a place where many people complain a lot and everyone who grew up there can distinguish between cultural complaining and "real" negativity while the immigrants tend to have a problem.

The point of the cultural complaining is a sort of self-deprecation, you come back from a vacation or a fantastic concert, it would be kind of tactless to tell the other what a *fantastic* experience you have had without them. My favourite conversation was in public transport, where a woman said to another in a really lost and confused tone: "My vacation was very nice, there was nothing to complain about." Then their conversation descended into awkward silence.

(Note that I don't say that it is a good way of conversing. I actually think that it is similar to women bonding over talking about their body-image insecurities. But since it is cultural it can actually be changed more easily than personality traits if people are made aware of it.)

As for handling the situation, I don't think that it is appropriate to let a situation build up over years and then immediately threaten with firing. Just tell her that her complaints make a large number of other people feel bad and it has to change. It might help if you can honestly add that you personally don't mind, but I am not so sure about that, it seems that you just closed the door. And I certainly vote for talking it through after the vacation.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #21 on: May 02, 2012, 5:46:20 PM »

Actually, I was wondering--while reading this thread yesterday--along the same lines as Macadamia.  She may well be Debbie Downer, but she may also be completely tone-deaf (culturally tone-deaf) to how she is coming across.  This may be why implicit and even explicit warnings to tone down the "negativity" haven't helped.

Vox is right, though, OP.  You've clearly (a) put off handling this to the extent that (b) you feel a need to address and resolve the problem immediately, decisively, etc., to make up for past inaction.  Part of the problem, at this point, is you.

I agree with LarryC and others earlier in the thread that you simply need to have a frank and direct conversation with her, and then see what happens.  If it were me, I'd have it after her vacation.  It would be cruel to have such a conversation--which she would have good reason to interpret as an attack, if not fair warning that her job could be in danger--right before she heads off to the beach, or wherever.
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hegemony
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« Reply #22 on: May 02, 2012, 5:55:20 PM »

I have dealt with two people like this, one of them a departmental secretary, one of them a friend.  The secretary was the cause of a string of other administrative assistants leaving over the course of several years.  To hear the secretary tell, her life was crisis after crisis, each of them miraculously averted, each of them described in excruciating and relentless detail.  The faculty in my department would do things she was supposed to do themselves (submitting forms, arranging for classrooms, etc.) because people couldn't bear dealing with her.  The whole thing was painful.  In the case of my friend, she kept getting written up at work for excessive gabbing, so that others couldn't work. She would laugh it off.  "They just don't want me to be friendly!"  She finally lost a job because of it, but went right on.  For these reasons I sympathize with the predicament, and suggest that tact will not be effective.  In my experience, the only thing that will work is to say straight out, but not meanly, what needs to happen, with a kindly word about keeping the job.  "Madge, around here we're going to need to focus on work more, rather than on talking about personal lives.  This means all of us, but I know that you especially tend to talk about your personal life on the job.  That needs to be cut way, way back.  I know life is stressful, but the job is for work.  We value your work, you know the ropes like nobody, so we'd really like to keep you.  But from now on, we focus on work.  I'm writing this talk up here...  [etc.]"  Subtler versions will have no impact, in my experience.  It doesn't matter whether she agrees with the assessment or not.  She just has to dial it down.
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melba_frilkins
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« Reply #23 on: May 02, 2012, 6:25:10 PM »

I would also wait until after the vacation. Along with the unkindness, there's the fact that if you give her 7 days to mull over it, that will be 7 days to get over it. By the time she's thought about the criticism for that long she'll have found a way to dismiss it. Tell her when she has the chance to act on the suggestion the very next day.
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drgrabow
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« Reply #24 on: May 02, 2012, 8:04:19 PM »

I sometimes get the feeling that posters in these fora often treat these situations as blank canvasses upon which to paint their own experiences.  Pointing out the part of the problem is me is exactly the point.  My inattention to this has allowed it to go this far.

That being said, she's driving the other employees crazy.  I feel I need to do something.  I have always treated the situation as somewhat of a distraction, but it's never effected my ability do my job.  This is what has changed.  This is why I don't want to wait much longer.

I think I'm going to go back to Lary C's very good advice.  I'm not going to make a federal case out of this.  At the end of this week, it will just be her and I in the office for the summer.  I'm going to wait for the next good example of this issue and ask her to make a change in this area.  Over the summer, while the stakes are low, I'll coach her on this point. I am going to hire a different student and then closely monitor her interaction with them.  When there is a good example there, I'll deal with it early.  I think that's all I can do.

Honestly, I may not be doing the best job of explaining this situation.  But for those of you who've been through this sort of think know, it is very tricky. I'd rather work in an environment where we can all monitor ourselves to make sure we're keeping a good balance between our work and life.  But this is not an area of strength for this employee.
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larryc
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« Reply #25 on: May 02, 2012, 8:23:16 PM »

Good luck with it, you seem to have a good balance of firmness and compassion.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #26 on: May 02, 2012, 8:26:53 PM »

So, do something.  We've suggested several possible ways of addressing the issue.

In general, things go better if you view other people--especially those who work with you--as people, rather than "distractions."  I stand with Vox on this one (i.e., beginning to doubt the reliability of the narration).

That said, the plan you outline here sounds very reasonable to me.  Good luck with it.
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zharkov
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« Reply #27 on: May 03, 2012, 7:48:43 AM »


This is a side issue, but I think there's an opportunity for a teaching moment with the student who did not want to take the job in the office with the AA.  Out in the work world, we all have to deal with people who aren't the most pleasant or happy or conscientious or whatever.  Ideally, students should learn to self advocate, tune out, or engage the difficult with witty repartee.  ("Gee, Debbie, at least you're not dead, yet.")  Maybe the student needs to learn how to talk to an adult?  As a sort of equal?

These are of sort of people skills students need to develop to succeed in the professional world. Or remain underemployed, as noted in another thread.
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mercy_my_own
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« Reply #28 on: May 03, 2012, 9:01:21 AM »

If this were me, my first action would be to call my HR office and find the person who works with training, employee evaluations, performance improvement, etcetera, and talk through the problem with them. You have an enormous opportunity to put your institution at risk with this conversation. You want to be sure that you are headed into it from the correct direction, speaking to her from an objective perspective and well coached in exactly what is, or is not appropriate parts of the dialogue. I can tell you that much of what you have said here in this thread is not appropriate. Given the complaining nature of the person that you are speaking of, it all seems pretty well positioned to blow up in your face if you head into this without professional guidance.
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drgrabow
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« Reply #29 on: May 03, 2012, 9:27:00 AM »

We had the conversation this morning.  It was short and to the point, but I think it went well.  She didn't realize that her issues were taking such a toll on the students. I approached it from the standpoint of "they are easily stressed out, and adult concerns can be too much for them."  That gave her an easy way out.  I didn't get into the issue of what the students have said or why the new student didn't want the job, I just mentioned it as something I've observed.

Thanks for all your advice!
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