Personnel Issues 101 for Writers

The moon setting yesterday morning at dawn. So lovely. I don’t recall ever seeing the moonset so often in other places I’ve lived.

In my first job after grad school, I worked in a laboratory. We did testing of water samples, analysis of tissues from game animals, disease diagnosis. Lots of different activities and specialties. Depending on the season, probably 10-12 people worked there. Mostly women. It’s a funny thing about labs – it’s a profession that attracts women. So, this was not only my first real, career-type job, it was also my first experience working day-in and day-out with a bunch of women.

Now, I love my gender, but I suspect that what I say here won’t come as much of a surprise.

Women can be a pain to work with. Especially to other women. There’s an unfortunate cattiness that comes out. An eternal jockeying for attention and one-upsmanship. If you’ve never experienced this, you are blessed indeed. If you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

A couple of the other gals complained about me. I got called in to see the lab manager. He said I spent too much time walking around with a cup of water in my hand. (Going back and forth to the water cooler.) He said I didn’t look busy enough. When I pointed out that I analyzed more samples than anyone else in the lab each day, he said that didn’t matter. What mattered was how busy I looked.

Yeah, he was a terrible manager. That didn’t help.

But, what I discovered over time was, that it didn’t really matter what I said or did. The key to resolving the issues lay in finding ways to get along with these gals. Which I eventually figured out. (After months and months of awfulness, but that’s neither here nor there.) It was a valuable learning experience.

A few years back, I served on the board of a writers organization. One of the women on the board continually fell into “misunderstandings” and all out wars with other members of the organization. We hear about this kind of thing going on in various chapters. The thing about this gal was, despite being a middle-aged woman, she’d never worked in a corporate environment. She just couldn’t see the value of giving ground on something she believed to be True and Right, in favor of getting along with other people.

The thing of it is, and I know it isn’t fair, the burden truly falls on us to deal with difficult people. Because we can’t make them stop being difficult. All us reasonable types can do is find ways to minimize the damage they can do. They may be the landmines, but the adept person finds the ways to avoid setting them off.

Another acquired skill.

Anyone got a good story for how they dealt with a difficult person?

12 Replies to “Personnel Issues 101 for Writers”

  1. I am dealing with one at the moment, related to Rachel’s softball team. She is the administrator of the group of softball teams. She is having a very hard time looking at the big picture of each team’s finances, and is instead fixated on two of my families who are a bit behind in paying their fees. Nevermind that others are ahead, so the team (and the organization) is whole. And she doesn’t understand that when you make people order equipment and uniforms, you just add those costs to their accounts, and then payments the families make go to reduce their overall account balances. I’ve built relatively simple spreadsheets to track it all, and shared those with her, and offered to go over them with her, to no avail.

    It’s been a really tough situation because her family is the one who started this organization, so I can’t demand that she is fired for being utterly incompetent. Instead, I take deep breaths when I need to deal with her, and copy the Board (her husband and another man we know well) on every single email.

    Just this morning, I was thinking about all of this. I decided to be the bigger person and sent her an email to offer to help her with her accounting system (nice face-saving way for her to ask for help). As much as I’d like to just punch her in the face (!), I decided to offer to help instead. I’ve been in accounting for over 20 years (currently as the Controller for a $60 million company), so this stuff she’s doing is super simple to me.

    Frankly, this relationship has been really difficult practically the entire time, starting back in September. I have prayed for help in healing it, and “Offer to help her” was the answer I got back this morning. It’s pretty clear she has trust issues, from all the nasty comments she’s made, so I need to find a way for her to trust me.


    1. Wow, Joan – that’s quite the story. I’m glad you shared the whole track of it, from beginning to your solution. I think it’s often true that moving in the opposite direction holds the solution. Instead of fighting her, helping her. Good luck! I hope it turns out well.

  2. The thing is: most difficult people are not being difficult towards me.
    I’ve had it happen a lot that everyone at a company was complaining about one person that was difficult to work with/was grumpy/etc and when I interacted with that person he/she (mostly he though) liked me and wasn’t difficult or grumpy to me at all.
    At one company everyone was surprised when the company’s ‘grump’ showed up for cake on my birthday. They told me he never had acknowledged a birthday before.

    Popular persons though….. that’s a whole different story 😉

      1. if only I knew what I’m doing to make them friendly towards me, then I could use it or explain it to other people 😉

        1. From what I know of you, you’re a very accepting, non-judgmental person. I suspect that’s what it is – you’re friendly without loading on expectations.

  3. I had a very difficult roommate a couple of years ago. My husband and I needed help with rent and asked one of his friends to move in. This guy went to school with me, but never went to class and constantly put me and my degree (creative writing) down, which irreparably damaged his relationship with my husband. From the beginning, he promised to move out if the living situation became too difficult. After months of him insulting me, insulting my husband, nearly hitting me once, and dragging drama into our marriage, I asked him to leave. I was through. But then he wouldn’t. He made up excuses about class, even though I knew he didn’t go, he just played video games – and when he failed one of his classes, it was “my fault.” Three months later, he refused to pay his part of the utilities, even though I asked him for it for several days. Because his video games required internet, and because he wasn’t helping with bills, and because my husband and I didn’t strictly need the internet, I called the cable company and turned it off. He was out that very night.

    I guess I just don’t have the maturity to deal well with overly difficult people.

    1. I don’t know, Sarah – sounds like you came up with the perfect solution! I say it was well done. Just too bad that the drama dragged on so long. Gack!

  4. I guess I’ve been lucky. Sure, I’ve had other gals I’ve worked with not like me and be catty, but I can’t think of an instance where it became a real issue. I just found a way to work around those people, and found enough friends to help alleviate my frustration by quietly plotting the unfortunate demise of the difficult co-worker. ;o)

    My last job had a snotty, skinny witch I had to coordinate with on a regular basis. My best friend at work didn’t like her either, so we’d hang out and vent to each other. We never figured out how to get around her, but knowing we each had a sympathetic ear made working with the snit a whole lot easier. Sometimes just having one other person on the job who understands makes all the difference.

    1. That’s true, B.E. Having someone to vent to is priceless! But still – you found your work-arounds without escalating the situations. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

  5. I have a million of them. I have worked for some of the most difficult people ever. One managed to Get me fired and there’s not much to do about that. I avoid them like the plague. It’s why I want out of Corporate America.

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