Sunday, August 3, 2008


FSP's post about crying students reminded me of a certain incident from fairly early in my career.

As I've said, I do struggle to project an aura of authority. However, not only do I look young, but I am somewhat of a crier. This is interpreted by many people as a sign of being overly sensitive. I am not overly sensitive. I cry in the same way another person may go into a snit or throw a tantrum. I have only cried on a few occasions after being belittled or shouted at, and generally I am able to busy myself with paperwork or go rummage around in the back of the truck while I pull myself together. Afterward, I'm able to discuss whatever the problem is rationally.

However, there is one exception...

I took over as sample manager about halfway through a large field project. Samples were just pouring in, and we were innundated. I did have a new employee who had been helping the previous sample manager, and she got me up to speed on how things were organized.

I'd been doing this work for about a week when the head of the field effort (I'll call him "Bob") stormed into our area. He'd just found out how we'd been organizing the samples and he thought it was stupid and would make later analysis difficult. Well, what we'd been doing had been cleared by other folks, but I could see his point and if I had started the program I may well have done things his way. I tried to reason with him, but he was on a roll. What possibly possessed us to do it this way, he had too much to do without worrying about sample organization, he thought we were somewhat competent but apparently he was wrong, etc etc.

Bob must've yelled at us for a solid 5 minutes. I stopped saying anything after the first couple of protests in the hope that he'd wind down, but no luck. Eventually, the other employee stormed out, muttering "I don't need this shit". Bob then rounded on me, saying that he expected her to screw up because she was a lazyass and she wasn't going to be there much longer if he had any say about it. But he hadn't thought I'd screw it up.

At that point, I just exploded with these horrible, loud sobs that I couldn't get under control. And there was an entire peanut gallery hovering at a discreet distance - most of our field crew. Ugh. The worst thing was, I wasn't really crushed by his tirade as much as enraged, and then mad at myself for not responding in a more socially-appropriate way.

One thing about my ouburst was that it made him feel like a shit, and it made the rest of the crew think he was a world-class asshole. Well, fair enough. The problem was that I was now considered fragile and had to be tiptoed around. One of my (male, older) coworkers had dissappeared during the commotion and brought me cheesecake, which was nice, but I just wanted to be treated like a professional who had just temporarily and justifiably lost her temper.


Anonymous said...

We all have little traits that we would love to be able to repress in our professional lives. In my case I find I have a loss for words in emotionally charged situations. Specifically, when I become furious, I have difficulty expressing myself. I remember getting yelled at in more than one occasion when I was so angry I literally could not open my mouth to talk. This has the side benefit of not saying anything I will regret later, but comes with the negative of not saying any of those things I would like to say either.

Silver Fox said...

Yelling at people is not cool, no matter what the provocation or tension that person is enduring (as in your next post).

When faced with new situations and repeated questions that I can't always answer and other tensions around being new at something, I can't tell you how many times I've retreated to the women's room until I can get my cry under control. Fortunately, I have been in field posistions long enough to not get that sort of thing while out in the field, but walking out (storming out) is something I can do pretty easily. I wish I knew better ways to deal with that kind of intimidation.