How to shake it off?
September 3, 2013 4:03 AM   Subscribe

How do I shake off negative comments and/or opinions in my (academic) job?

So IMO us academics are a petty lot. Smart people, big egos, lot's of pride. It gets rough.

I commonly get lots of comments from people who I consider quite smart and talented (and therefore look up to) regarding my performance, approach to solving a problem or generally. Sometimes I even get these people outright blank me because they feel I'm not worth their time (like today in the canteen where a senior academic signalled by "hello" with a dismissive nonchalant stare -- or last week where I learnt there's a reading group going on in a topic in which I'm very interested but which I was not invited to because my opinion is considered pointless).

Fair enough, it's their life and it's their opinion. I know I shouldn't let it gnaw at me but it does. A lot. In other areas of my life where I receive similar negativity I'm able to easily let it wash over me because I guess I'm not so invested in those people or in those things. However, work related feedback really does drive me to despair. I know some of these things are just personality quirks but it's difficult to not let them bother you.

I know I should grow a thicker skin but I'm looking for general coping strategies to avoid feeling down for entire days when this sort of thing happens. Logically I'm able to reason it out, emotionally it's a little different.
posted by gadha to Human Relations (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
last week where I learnt there's a reading group going on in a topic in which I'm very interested but which I was not invited to because my opinion is considered pointless

Do you KNOW that's why you weren't invited? Could it have possibly been just an oversight to invite you? Are you new to the department? Maybe not everyone is invited and people just sort of invite themselves as they hear about it?

Sometimes I even get these people outright blank me because they feel I'm not worth their time (like today in the canteen where a senior academic signalled by "hello" with a dismissive nonchalant stare

Perhaps they were just preoccupied or having a bad day?

People are going to recommend CBT probably, particularly given your post history, but one thing I find helpful is when I catch myself doing something similar to someone else (I didn't say hello because I was deep in thought about something and didn't even notice them until they passed me) is to mentally catalog it as an alternate explanation for when someone does it to me. Begin assuming the problem lies with them and not you.
posted by unannihilated at 4:35 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

How do you know your opinion is considered pointless? It seems a big leap to assume that's the reason you weren't invited to a reading group. Maybe they didn't know you were interested? Maybe it's a set, established group. Maybe it was thrown together at the last minute... you get my gist. I wonder how much you're reading into this. Also, there's every chance the person you said hi to didn't even see you.
posted by Jubey at 4:35 AM on September 3, 2013

Do you have someone (offline, impartial and uninvested in your work preferably) who will let you bitch about the bullshit, and who will listen to you explain the obvious unfairness you're experiencing? I love a good 'I'm dealing with *this shit*' convo with someone who is inevitably dealing with 'that shit'... and if you're both good listeners it can be really cathartic.

People who are being inconsiderate at work are likely ignorant/oblivious/uncaring about how their comments affect you and are no different (really!) than anonymous commenters trolling the internet.

Not easy, but chalk their comments up to most people being not considerate... they're framing their comments in ways that make sense to them, with no regard to you... they're comments that you honestly don't need to value as much as your own insight/research/findings.

My only healthy coping mechanism for dealing with people who s**t on my work is to find someone outside the bubble I'm working on to have a good grumble with. I've been told to "sway like a palm tree", and while that 'grinds my gears' more than anything, it kinda is the only response.
posted by panaceanot at 4:37 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just to actually answer your question on coping strategies - what works for me is something like a mental gratitude journal. I would think of all the things I have, great husband, kids, lovely home, fun job whatever it is that fulfils me. Then I think this other person mustn't be so lucky, they're clearly miserable if they're spreading their toxic mood around. Then I kinda feel bad for them if that's all they've got and by that stage thinking of the things I love has banished some nobody's opinion of me and I go on my way.
posted by Jubey at 4:43 AM on September 3, 2013

>How do you know your opinion is considered pointless? It seems a big leap to assume that's the reason you weren't invited to a reading group.

I asked and the exact reply from the guy involved was "You don't add any value so I chose not to invite you. Your opinion is mostly trite".
posted by gadha at 4:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe you can shake off the job, instead?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

"IMO us academics are a petty lot. Smart people, big egos, lots of pride."

You know, my first reaction to this line is, perhaps you are the one with the big ego, as well as one heck of a chip on your shoulder. When you arrived, did you try to blend in with the established group, or did you let them know --- by word or deed --- that you consider them "a petty lot"?
posted by easily confused at 5:21 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you, by chance, a graduate student? Or maybe the UK is just meaner than here, because that "your opinions are trite" thing sounds like comp lit graduate student bullshit.

So my immediate thoughts: what is your field? Is it one with strong factionalism/ideological tendencies? (Particularly one with a strong marxist tendency? Or Deleuzians, they tend to be big on "destroying the negative side of the dialectic".) If it's one where people really prize "drawing lines", then just bear in mind that these are people for whom factional struggle (usually over very little) is something they actively seek out. There has to be another faction, and you happen to be it.

Why do people think your opinions are trite? It could well be that you're a little bit behind the curve, for whatever reason, but I've certainly seen people to include those whose analysis is a little less sophisticated (often that would be me!) just out of solidarity/kindness. Is it an ideological thing? Is it a class thing, like everyone else is from Cambridge and you're some kind of red brick person? (Is that the correct phrasing?)

How are your social skills? Do you feel like you're generally welcome in company? Do you tend to pontificate? Are people cutting you dead because you bore them or are awkward in some really dreadful way?

I think really owning your opinions and your approach is the only way to do it. (I'm assuming that by "trite" they don't mean "misogynist and right wing", of course.) Presumably you are not the only person in your field to have your approach, so perhaps you can work to become more engaged with the journals, speakers and so on of your particular tendency? The less they see you as an outlier and the more they see you as someone with scholarly allies, the less they'll feel comfortable being so awful.
posted by Frowner at 5:21 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

> perhaps you are the one with the big ego, as well as one heck of a chip on your shoulder. When you arrived, did you try to blend in with the established group, or did you let them know --- by word or deed --- that you consider them "a petty lot"?

Perhaps. It was personal observation I apply in generality. I've tried to blend with them and generally get along pretty well with > 95% of the people out there. Don't know if this helps to answer the question but I've never stood up to or retaliated to any of this but have had people stand up for me.
posted by gadha at 5:29 AM on September 3, 2013

> Are you, by chance, a graduate student?

> what is your field?
Compsci, systems engineering.

>people think your opinions are trite?
Not sure. Head-on-head my publishing/teaching record is no better or worse than most (> 70%) of the lab. I'm solidly in the middle.
posted by gadha at 5:31 AM on September 3, 2013

It sounds as though you're identifying your success in your field with your immediate co-workers' opinions of you. One of the awesome things about academia is that you don't have to do that. Sure, some politicking is probably necessary to get by day-to-day, but in the long term, the aim of your research, writing and teaching is supposed to be to serve future generations and add to the general sum of human knowledge, not to please the idiot in the office next to you. That's the point of tenure, after all-- in academia, it really is possible to have everyone hate you and want you out of your job, and yet still be doing really valuable, important work.

For this reason, I wonder if it'd maybe help to develop a little de-stressing routine to get your head out of the immediate political environment and into the wider intellectual milieu? Have some oooold issues of journals in your field nearby to look over-- those scholars are dead and gone, as are the assholes who snubbed them at the lunch table, but their articles are still interesting and cogent, aren't they? And you can still learn some stuff from reading them, and be grateful that they were written? Likewise, maybe make an ongoing practice of reading biographies of well-known figures in your discipline; you're likely to find that none of them were without enemies on a personal level. But what mattered in the end was the quality of the work.

All this is not to say that you should give up trying to win friends at your own institution, but really, in the end, whether some random colleague thought your opinions were trite is so far from reflecting in any way on your likely success as a scholar (vs. just an "academic"). So when you're feeling down, maybe look into ways of reminding yourself of that fact.
posted by Bardolph at 5:35 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

A piece of advice given to me: always take the opinions of other graduate students, especially ones in your own cohort, with a grain of salt. Even the ones who think they're the second coming of Foucault have the same overall experience as you (which is to say, not much compared to your supervisors or journal editors). If lunchroom guy was a fellow graduate student, that wasn't work-related feedback. That was graduate student cliquishness, which is completely different. You're doing fine on paper, and at this stage that's really all that matters career-wise. Socially, this does sound rough (those attitudes are not universal in academia! Those people sound like they're taking their insecurities out on you), so maybe try to schedule time to talk to or see your non-academic friends, or if you don't have any of those, try meeting graduate students in other departments at your university. And remember that being an academic (or an academic-in-training) is your job right now. It's not who you fundamentally are. If you believe that it really is who you fundamentally are, start taking a yoga class or volunteering. It's worth taking a little time away from the library or lab to remember that you're a full person capable of many things who just happens to have chosen a difficult and demanding career path.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Per your update, you "get along pretty well with >95% of the people out there."

So.... where's the problem? Nobody gets along with 100%!
posted by easily confused at 5:58 AM on September 3, 2013

> So.... where's the problem? Nobody gets along with 100%!

Sure, I don't expect to either. The question was not about getting along with everyone but rather about coping strategies for myself so I don't beat myself up about it and have comments ruin my mood and productivity. Thanks for your input though, it's appreciated.
posted by gadha at 6:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Looking back at your previous questions, work seems like a major source of stress for you. If this area of your life is constantly causing you problems over time, it may be worth considering therapy to develop coping mechanisms to help you deal with whatever issues are impacting your happiness, such as whatever AWFUL human being thought it was ok to be UNFORGIVABLY RUDE TO YOU.
posted by prefpara at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2013

And, sorry, but anyone who would write or say a sentence like that has such poor judgment that their disdain for you is basically a compliment.
posted by prefpara at 6:44 AM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

If someone else doesn't like me/my work, it clearly signals some deep flaw on their part. And that's fine, there are flawed people in the world, but why waste your time stewing over their deficits when you could be furthering your own awesomeness?

Ok, hyperbolic, but if I try a type of houseplant out a couple times and it just won't grow for me, I don't sit there and wonder why it hates me. I just stop trying to grow that specific plant, and salve my ego with the many, many other thriving houseplants under my care.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:47 AM on September 3, 2013

With comments like the one that you got, I'd wonder how much value a group like that would offer me. If others stick up for you, I'd try and ignore someone who would make such an unprofessional and tactless statement.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:50 AM on September 3, 2013

I'm not sure if this will help you where you are right now, but I worked for a couple years pregrad school at a very fancy pants uni and the environment sounded similar (people were absolutely horrible to one another). I did reach a point where I looked around at other people and it started to change how I viewed pple -I did do what Bardolph suggests and plowed through the biographies of scientists on my own time.

However, this is what I also did on my own time, which was very effective for re-setting how I viewed other pple. I think that it will help you, too,because per your other questions, they are all focused on how to be viewed/pple in that environment.

Anywho, see if you can volunteer with people in the community and outside academia. At least for me, it enabled me to connect with other people and it really helped me respect and understand other people (i.e. a person that you tutor is spending their own time working hard to learn and understand basic math, whatever). With a comp background, you may have something valuable to share with other people in your community.

Another idea that I have for you since it seems as if you are sociable(ie >95% of pple like you), forget the click groups and excluders (do you really want to be with a group like that?) Fill up your world with your own group. So consider starting your own journal club-maybe it is for your department, pple in your discipline, lab,etc. If I were in your shoes, I would make it inclusive. But if you have other groups/people you engage with/your own academic areas/plus the community, I really think that the other pple will not take up much space in your head.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:51 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Think of it this way - at least you didn't get invited to the reading group only to be treated miserably in a group setting by someone who is merely asserting his dominance for reasons that more than likely actually have nothing to do with you. So, douche did you a favour.

You can spend your time not having to put up with him! Woohoo!

The whole of your interests don't rest on that one reading group. There are other things you can do that, for you, would be far more useful ways to spend your time.

Any time crap like this happens, ask yourself what you can do for you. Others have given a number of good suggestions.
posted by heyjude at 2:52 PM on September 3, 2013

If you're a grad student, you're surrounded by people who are intellectually and, often, socially still in development. They are most likely not in a position to judge your worth accurately. And anyone who would write such an obnoxious thing to you (you add no value, are trite), is a pretty despicable human being. It sucks.

Not everyone in your program will be such a vicious ass, so avoid the haters. Spend time with other grad students outside your program, and with non-academics as well. If you can do some volunteer work, even an hour or two a month, that may be helpful to you as well. Keep your eye on the prize -- if your advisors are happy with your work, that's all that matters.

Anyone who would be that cruel is insecure and immature. It's not you, it's them.

Hang in there.
posted by ravioli at 8:14 PM on September 4, 2013

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