I work at a large public library system and I have been there for 6 years. I had previously worked for them part-time, but left to finish school and returned in a professional capacity.
The problem is I am very rough around the edges when it comes to dressing right, making polite conversation and have a hard time fitting it. I have to tried to “look the part” but ended up getting talked about indirectly at meetings and at the branch I work at.
I have tried to socialize outside of work, but found that again I was being ridiculed behind my back (being called an “idiot” and “unprofessional”). The problem comes in when I try to stick up for myself when I feel I am being treated unfairly. I am seen as the trouble maker, and sh*t disturber, when others say things to me and bring up mistakes from the past. I have tried my very best, but it just might not be good enough for this organization. I have above average reviews, have received commendations and thought I was doing a good job.
This year has been particulary rough for me personally and it has affected my job attitude, which is not helping my situation. No one wants to work with me on projects, I have been transferred around (but promoted continuously so that I am now one step from management) and my reputation at the job is in ruins.
Is there anyway to salvage this job? I have been looking around, but have not found another position. I need my job, but it is depressing to go there and be scorned by coworkers.
Misfiled Library Card
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear Misfiled Library Card,
It’s unfortunate that people over the age of 18 cannot figure out that it’s not nice to pick on people because of how they look or act. That being said, you do have a couple of choices: stay or leave.
Before you make any decisions, however, let’s analyze what got you to this point. The start of any office politics situation begins with what I refer to as “the game ball.” This game ball is the point of manipulation for power within the political game, and it is very important that it’s identified before moving forward.
Typically, game balls can be divided into any mixture of three categories: people (relationships, power, reporting structures), resources (time, money, budget, space, office supplies, retiring Fred’s potted plant), and information (data, reports, numbers, facts, innuendo and perception)… wait a minute, I think we have a winner here. It would appear from your letter as though the game ball is perception… of you.
Now, you seem to have a fairly keen sense of self-awareness and you know that you come across as socially awkward to others. This is not irreparable, but it will take some work. If it is possible for you to do so, have you ever considered consulting with a life coach? This is someone who is trained to look at the “whole you” and assist in making course corrections. It may involve different fashion or some hygienic tips like hair style and skin care. It may involve coaching in various social situations. Your letter indicates that you would like to break out of the perception that others have of you, and this might be the way to begin. If a life coach is not in your budget, do you have a trusted friend/colleague/peer/mentor who would be willing to take you under his/her wing and give you some guidance? Whether you go professional or a more personal friend, ensure that:
1) They know you well enough to know your limits; we’re not talking extreme makeover as much as we’re talking adjustment. You don’t want to make changes that are not you and that you’re not comfortable with long term.
2) You approach them with an open mind and a level of humility to consider what they analyze and suggest. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Secondly, the perceptions of you are not going to change overnight, regardless of how well your coach does. Do you have any allies at work in whom you can confide about the teasing? If you have a Human Resources department, you may want to bring it up to them, but make sure you have documented specific instances including date, time, those involved, what was said or done (objectively – don’t editorialize) and whether you verbalized your discomfort with it. In our litigious society, HR departments are becoming more sensitive to all kinds of workplace harassment. The trick here is to get just one person on your side (preferably a peer rather than HR) who knows how the teasing makes you feel and will stand up for you. Along with the continued teasing, there will need to be a change in mindset from you. One of my favorite quotes is by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a brilliant stateswoman in her own right. She once said, “Nobody can make me feel inferior without my consent.” By allowing these clods to get to you, you are giving them permission to hurt your feelings.
If the situation has become so bad that it is affecting you physically, you might want to also consider an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if one is available, to help you determine your next steps. EAPs offer a wide variety of counseling assistance, some including psychologists, lawyers, etc. to help you chart your best course of action. If the time does come for you to make a leap to a new job, you will have regained the power to decide when, where, and how.
I wish you all the best (and I’m sticking my tongue out at your coworkers as I type).
Thanks for writing to Office Politics.
Timothy Johnson, Author
Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.