Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bully for you

Once upon a time when I worked for TSA, there weren't really any supervisors.  We were all new, and we all took turns, so they could figure out who to promote later.  Whenever I was in charge of the assignments, I ended up working at the busiest counter, the one no one wanted to work at, and I always assigned Mr. Bully to work there, too.  Mr. Bully was a big man, a veteran built like a tank.  He was gruff and mean and had a chip on his shoulder, and his method of "winning" an argument was to shout the other party down. 

I didn't really like Mr. Bully.  And I hated that in order to keep his grumbling to a minimum, I always had to work the busy airline, too.  But I just couldn't let the injustice of him never having to work the busy counter pass, so I put up with it.  When he asked me why I picked on him, I told him I wasn't picking on him; I was just trying to be fair and make sure that everyone rotated the duty we didn't like, so certain people didn't always end up getting stuck with it.  He still grumbled.

It was just another brick in my "I never want to be a manager/in charge" wall.  I do not deal well with difficult people.  They require finesse and communication skills and concentration and careful handling.  These are things I lack even more since I started to deal with chronic pain and insomnia. 

And now I have a difficult person in a group I'm in charge of, and I'm afraid it's going to be Mr. Bully all over again.  I'm the one who almost always has to step in and interrupt the story I've heard several times (she doesn't want help fixing the problem; she just wants to complain about it) or steer things back to the topic we're there to discuss.  She acts very defensively a lot of the time and makes passive aggressive comments about feeling like I'm judging her.  (I'm actually not.)  I'm sort of anticipating a "Why are you picking on me?" 

Only this time, I don't really have an answer, at least not one that is calm and logical and polite and firm and non-threatening.  I just don't have the bandwidth. 

If she asks, I will probably tell her the truth, "I'm not picking on you.  I'm just trying to redirect things, so your troubles (and they are real and significant) don't take over this group of people who hate confrontation and won't stop you.  I'm technically the leader, and this is my job."  I cringe about this confrontation and the growing passive-aggressive grumblings.  I am concerned about how these perceived clashes might hurt the group.  I do not have the bandwidth for this.  I don't want to be the "leader."

Then again, it's not like this has to end in tears.  Mr. Bully turned out to be a lot more bluster than bite.  I found that out when he surprised me by being the only one who stepped in to help when I was being sexually harassed by a female co-worker.  Not the casual friends I got along with, not the nice older ladies, but the bully I thought hated and resented me.  There's a lesson in there, I think.  I'm just not sure what it is . . .

Any suggestions?

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