Instead of fending for oneself, how about we fight for a better situation
“I have experienced the ‘eggshell’ walk myself and have witnessed it in others. For myself, I can definitely say I’ve surrendered my voice at times. I have defaulted to ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Now I recognize that not saying something when respect was violated, and I have not done myself any favors. I now must circle back with particular people, which sometimes seems insurmountable. Yeesh….”
It makes me think of the stories* women share. How they didn’t manage to say to the very drunk and obnoxious man who is loudly insisting on her doing whatever he wants, “you have to stop.”
And then I remember. Silence is a form of self-protection.
It’s not that we don’t know how to “speak up.” We’re simply doing the active but invisible mental calculus to assess the situation.
And so I wonder, Melissa if we can forgive ourselves and the self-judgment that comes from quietly absorbing the experience to spot how the situation itself is untenable.
I NEVER FIND A PLACE TO STOP
Take, for example, the constant email and Slack channel alerts that are oh-so-subtle invitations to work 24-7, including evenings and weekends?
What’s a responsible professional person to do? Do we self-advocate by saying this is exhausting and has been for a long time and something has to change? Or is it just easier to be “nice” and work most Sundays, so we’re not overwhelmed on Mondays?
That’s a big bind. But it’s not a simple issue of boundaries, but a sign of work culture.
The culture asks us to accept the norm of working every weekend, so we don’t risk our jobs. (Or, a more likely scenario, risk that the boss or our teammates thinking we’re not committed to our careers, or equally hardworking as them, or whatever).
We manage the bind by doing what we could call a “survival dance.” We know all the moves: deference, silence, apologizing even though we have nothing to be sorry for. We know those moves without having to think about them.
We just groove.
In doing the survival dance, we don’t even notice how it keeps us from doing our “fully alive dance,” so we can add the value of our onlyness at work.
BUT I NEVER WANTED ALL THESE THINGS
Is it even solvable to break these binds?
For that, I think of Mary Parker Follett (again).
She would have had us ask, “Now, what is our problem here?” Which is the start of Follett’s Law of the Situation. She says we often think of tensions at work as extremes. (or, as I describe, binds).
The boss needs to give orders, but most employees don’t like receiving orders.
Follett says the solution is to depersonalize the giving of orders, unite all concerned in a study of the situation, discover the law of the situation, and obey that.
Her example is that the head of sales does not give orders to the head of the production, or vice versa. Each studies the market, and the final decision is made to what the market demands. One person should not give orders to another person, but both should agree to take orders from the situation. If orders are simply part of the situation, the question of someone giving and someone receiving does not come up. Both accept the orders given by the situation.
(It’s language from the 1920s, not 2022, so forgive that.)
But the idea, 100 years old now, and one of the first management insights for change is this: it’s about the situation. In modern vernacular: fix the game, not the player.
(a TikTok about situations)
IT WAS SO FINE, FINE, FINE
At work, how might we apply this?
Maybe we could start a conversation on Monday and, on some Slack channel, ask, “Hey, how many people are having to work Sundays just not to feel overwhelmed on Monday mornings?” And ask why. Is it related to emails that come over the weekend? If that turns out to be accurate, you could ask on behalf of the whole group, “How about we make our work culture better by insisting that no one send emails on the weekends and holidays? If needed, they can write and schedule messages to arrive during the workweek.”
Does that seem a bit too visionary?
Or does it help to fight about who we want to be instead of just fending for ourselves?
A way to shape and share the situation in which we work.
So we have each other’s backs.
BORN, BORN TO BE ALIVE
The next time we see something that isn’t working, we may argue for a better situation. So that none of us feels the burden of just fending for ourselves.
Or maybe we need to find better situations? That, I don’t know.
What I do know is that the Latin for “being alive” is interhominemesse which means “to be amongst men,” whereas to be dead was interhominemesse desinere or “to cease being amongst men.”
If we’re fully alive at work, it’s not enough to leave it to anyone to demand respect, but the work we do together, so we respect one another.
And then, like in this dance hall, we start grooving together.
*(And men, if you don’t already know of these stories, ask any woman you know to share. My most recent experience was a drunk guy in my house demanding that I curate art for his new house even after I said no. Thank goodness that his wife finally got involved after three tries on my part to get him to stop. )