I know not EVERYONE is a micromanager...help me act like I know it!
November 5, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Past experiences with obnoxious, micromanaging-prone colleagues, etc., have left me with a tendency toward knee-jerk defensive reactions to even the mildest, friendliest comments about my hobby/crafting projects-in-progress. I don't like having these reactions, but I'm at a loss as to how to deal with them less awkwardly and am thinking some better "scripts" need to be added to my personal phrase bank. Suggestions? (Lengthy details abound...)

So, I do a lot of random arts-and-crafts projects (drawing, acrylic painting, woodcarving, amateur furniture construction, refinishing, sewing, etc.). I greatly enjoy this sort of thing and sharing the end result(s) with others. I also, as a general principle, welcome constructive criticism and actively seek it out when I get stuck on a project.

That said...for whatever reason, I find myself getting very defensive whenever people pop in and give me unsolicited comments on my works-in-progress. It doesn't matter if they're critical comments or compliments, either...my internal response is to immediately feel extremely awkward and confused about how to respond.

I guess the main problem is that if someone says ANYTHING about what I'm doing/how I'm doing it when I'm in the midst of concentrating on [random project]...it feels very invasive, like the other person is expecting me to consider their comments before continuing on with my work and that if I don't, I'm being foolish/pigheaded/"contrary"/etc.

I know the folks doing this don't intend to come across this way, and that my unpleasant internal reactions to their conversation attempts are most likely the result of my brain's hyper-reactivity to anything that smacks of "micromanaging", even when I fully realize that there's no actual micromanaging going on.

As a female-type person with a degree in electrical engineering who also happens to be short and young-looking for my age, and who also has Asperger's (diagnosed) and correspondingly atypical body language/poor "tone awareness", etc., I've had a disproportionate number of awful experiences with colleagues, etc. Who despite having zero authority over me take one look at me and presume I must have no idea what I'm doing...and proceed to tell me things I already know in a terribly condescending manner.

[I even had one guy (at a part-time programming job I held in college) lie to me in order to get me alone in an office under false pretenses, where he proceeded to spend a couple of hours alternating between telling me what was supposedly wrong with my working style and insisting that my "only hope for reaching my potential" was to accept him as my "mentor" (and that refusing was tantamount to "throwing my future away"). This same guy also had a habit of sitting right behind me while I was coding, staring over my shoulder, asking me why I wasn't done yet, and telling me I was "just trying to avoid responsibility"(???) when I told him his presence wasn't helping.]

So, basically, I've figured out that what's probably happening is that my negative experiences with "people making comments" in the workplace have spilled over into my off-hours to the extent that it's almost like I have a "fight or flight" reaction to anyone making even the mildest, friendliest comment about my hobby projects.

I have tried to avoid indulging this reaction to the point of, say, covering up and hiding my projects when anyone so much as walks into a room where I'm working on them, and am not actively neurotic enough to only be willing to work on my stuff in secret...but it's still incredibly annoying to be caught up in this extremely awkward mindset and response-tendency when I KNOW not everyone is an obnoxious ex-colleague.

What I'd really like, therefore, is a suggested script or set of suggested "response phrases" that I can employ when people comment on my stuff as I'm working on it. I think if I had some reasonable phrases to respond with this would help quell my inner defensiveness a lot, as in general I feel better around people when I have a clue as to how to communicate what I actually want to, vs. flailing around aimlessly as tends to happen when I've encountered a "blank space" in my social repertoire.

Again, when it comes to hobby stuff, it is NOT a matter of anyone actually trying to micromanage me...they're just making casual comments only to have me "freak out" on them, and I want to stop doing that.

I've already worked out that if someone says "hey, looks good!" the best thing I can say is simply "Thanks!" (with no tacked-on "but it's NOT DONE YET!") and proceed to keep working.

But when it comes to comments along the lines of, "Hey I was just walking by and thinking there's this cool/easy way you could implement [X] if you feel like it...", I have *no clue* what the heck I'm supposed to say, especially if I'd like to hear their suggestion but not right then.

Is it acceptable/polite to say something like, "Great! But I'm trying to concentrate right now, so maybe could you tell me about it later?"

Also, I'd like to know how to politely respond to it when someone comments (neutrally) that the thing I'm working on looks a certain way. E.g., if I'm trying to sculpt, say, a miniature car, and someone walks up and says, "That looks like a Toyota!" I find this extremely "flustering", as often when a comment like that is made, I might not have even decided yet on what subtype of car I'm making.

Being told it looks like anything specific at that point feels...stifling somehow, even though I know the commenter doesn't mean it that way, and I don't want friends/family/etc. to feel like they have to "walk on eggshells" around me when I'm doing anything arty. I've tried telling people "please don't make any comments about this thing at all, positive or negative, until I ask for feedback" but this apparently comes across as weird and (again) overly defensive and awkward. It'd be handy to know exactly what I could/should say in those situations that would be simultaneously honest and non-weird.

So, all in all, I'm curious about how others, especially those with similar past experiences, deal with this particular aspect of human relations? Thanks!
posted by aecorwin to Human Relations (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "You have some good ideas, you should try your hand at this sometime"
posted by empath at 2:02 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes, when we're out in the world doing our thing, random people, or even people we know will make thoughtless comments, or will break our concentration. It happens.

One thing is that it's normal, and you should find a way to channel irritation into something else. People don't mean to de-rail you in the middle of your project, they don't understand that your concentration is important to you.

One thing to say, is, "Oh! Sorry, I was so deep into my thing that I didn't hear you. I'm kind of in the middle of it right now, can we talk later?" It's polite, and who cares if they think you're weird.

Another thing to say is, "Well, I haven't decided what it is yet, but it's getting there, whatever it is."

It's totaly polite to say, "I'd love to talk with you about your idea for X, but I'm right in the middle of this so perhaps later, before I start my next X."

Know that most people are trying to engage you, and that it's okay to want some time alone with your projects.

You might want to have a special room, with a sign on the door that says, "Caution! Crafter at Work. Enter at your own Risk!"

My Dad had a thing. If his door was ajar, it was okay to go in and talk to him. If it was closed, he wanted privacy. This was at his office. It worked great. Perhaps it will work for you?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why can't you just have a private space for your hobbies? That really isn't weird. Concentrating is a normal need when doing something creative.

I am not Aspie and I loathe public compliments. So I don't think this is at all neurotic. My experience has been that public compliments are almost always trouble and usually meaningless. It often results in other people feeling the need to "balance the scales" by attacking me and it is almost never useful/constructive feedback. Frequently, there is some sort of socially manipulative agenda, not really for my benefit at all.

Having said that, if you cannot just hole up in a studio for some reason, I would try to master the art of noncommittally grunting at people in order to deflect the intrusion as effectively possible and give it as little of my attention as possible while I try to concentrate.
posted by Michele in California at 2:14 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why are you communicating with people about work in progress? Where are you working?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2012

Response by poster: Briefly, to answer DarlingBri: As for where I'm working on hobby stuff...it varies, depending on what tools/materials I need access to. At home, for instance comments would be coming from my partner, or neighbors (if I'm outdoors, as I often am for large woodworking projects), or occasional visiting family, etc., who might potentially see my stuff. I am willing and able to work totally privately sometimes, but since that may not always be possible (e.g., if I need to visit a "tech shop" to use a certain tool) I'd really like to improve the way I respond to random comments that might pop up unexpectedly, rather than rely on doing everything out of sight, so to speak. Again, I'm convinced that I don't actually hang around a disproportionate number of rude people and I feel like I should have better "brain tools" for responding to perfectly normal/innocent/curious social overtures.
posted by aecorwin at 2:49 PM on November 5, 2012

Best answer: Comment that is not a suggestion, whether it is a compliment or criticism: "Heh, heh, yeah!" Go back to working.

Comment that is a suggestion: "Good idea! But I'd like to keep going with my original concept on this one. Maybe next time!"
posted by BrashTech at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you wear huge old fashioned earphones, so it's obvious that you can't hear them? In general, I think most people don't really mean anything negative or even fabulously positive by their comments--they're just saying something to seem friendly, social, and so on. You can grunt, you can nod your head, you can say thanks! in a bright tone and keep your head down, but the real issue is that you need to set boundaries with others, esp. at work. Once you learn how to do this, it will be easier to cope at both your recreation and at your job.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2012

Best answer: It's perfectly reasonable to respond to any comment with (1) a neutral acknowledgement, followed by (2) stating your preferred working style, and (3) directing the conversation away.
Them: "That's a nice X!"
You: "Well, so far, so good. I really don't like talking about my stuff until it's finished, though. Can I help you with something?"
"yeah, thanks, maybe I'll show you when it's done. Were you here to tell me it's time for dinner?"
"Cool. Things are going well, I'm kind of focused right now. Can we talk later, or was there something important?"

Them: "Have you considered Y?"
"Yeah, could do I guess. I think I like where I'm headed with this, though. Maybe some other time."
"Hmm, I suppose. So far, so good though. (get back to work)"
posted by aimedwander at 2:59 PM on November 5, 2012

You've already said that you know these people are not trying to micromanage you and that your response is not in proportion. Have you considered therapy to deal with these social interaction issues?

Yes, you had a bad experience with someone trying to mentor you (or whatever that was). Nearly everyone has had bad managers. It's not an enduring problem that colors interactions with partners and family. This seems like a problem that going to spillover into many areas of your life. Therapy might help here.
posted by 26.2 at 3:09 PM on November 5, 2012

Best answer: Something that a friend of mine says whenever he gets unsolicited advice that he knows he's not going to use -- "I'll take it under advisement."

A lot of times people figure out that this is his way of saying "no I'm not going to do that", though, so you may want to use that with caution.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2012

Best answer: My go-to is generally: "I will have a think about that."

Or some variation on it.
posted by heyjude at 6:17 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like "That's an interesting idea", myself, since it's flattering yet requires no further action on my part.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:56 PM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I usually prefer: "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." It acknowledges that you've heard what they have said, but it also helps shut down further conversation.
posted by emilynoa at 12:27 PM on November 6, 2012

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