Coping with rigid thinkers in the workplace.. how?
February 7, 2015 1:34 AM   Subscribe

I finally have a (temp) job .. halleluah! So far so good.. mainly. I am however working with a few very forceful personalities. Don't get me wrong, I do like everyone I work with but am struggling with some stuff. The people I work with are all quite deep thinking, which is great in many ways.. but they are also very rigid/black and white in their thinking. I know I can be a bit like this (maybe why it irks me!) but I like to think I try to see where others are coming from..

I had a revelation last night that there can be a fine line between being passionate about something and actually being kind of irritating and a bit disagreeable. Here's a few examples of things that have been said.. (I work in mental health).. people like me (temps) are all earning a fortune and having a whale of a time.. fact.. maybe one time, for some, this way of working was a license to print money, I have known extended periods of depressing unemployment and have no security whatsoever.

Second.. people (like me) who go on marches to save the NHS are 'deluded and wasting their time' and 'what's marching going to do?' etc

Third.. labelling people/conditions in is totally unhelpful as are drugs.

I am struggling with the rigidity in thinking here.. although I have some sympathy with some of the ideas expressed, I find I am left feeling a bit drained/shit from the effort involved in trying to put forward other perspectives. Also, I am leaving myself feeling a little exposed in terms of how much I am giving away personally to back up an alternative perspective.

As I'm new in the door, I need to find a way to cope with this. All of the workers I'm talking about are men. Am I best to just try and detach a bit (never my strong point if I disagree with something).. or what? I feel a lot of this touches on my own historical stuff of feeling unseen/unheard in some ways.. and it's a nice gig and I want to feel ok there.
posted by tanktop to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They sound burned out. I think, yes, detach a bit, and stay away from discussion about politics or your personal life, and don't get involved in defending yourself or your views; using humour and diversion may work for 1) and 2). Talk about TV shows, sports, food, anything else.

3) is huge, if you mean you think they're using drugs (and labels) inappropriately to lessen their workload. I guess the first thing would be to verify that that's in fact the case, but if it's true and you don't want to stir the pot, I don't know what you, as a new/contract employee, could do with that information, other than look for allies at your workplace, seek guidance from a trusted mentor in your professional association (or an unassociated and disinterested ex-coworker), and treat the patients you deal with the way you feel is right. Would that in itself be controversial or undermine your position with these colleagues? Tricky stuff - I hope you hear from others who work in your field.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:00 AM on February 7, 2015

I'd definitely advise detaching and disengaging, as that's the only way I've ever personally been able to make a job like that tolerable. I really empathise with the feeling you describe of being drained and then exposed - that's exactly how I used to feel, after wading into yet another conversation to try to present an alternative viewpoint.

I guess the key for me was to remind myself that I don't *need* to provide that alternative viewpoint. It's great when people do speak up to refute incorrect or damaging ideas, but at the end of the day it's not my job to do so, and there's only so many times (especially as a queer and trans person, in my own case) that you can pipe up to say "well actually in my experience..." before you start to feel like you're fighting some silly neverending Sisyphean battle.
posted by RedRob at 3:10 AM on February 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

I have to say that I don't think the problem here is rigidity of thought, but that they disagree with you, which is quite a different thing.

Just as there's no real win to be had by engaging with people who are wrong on the internet, there's very little to be gained by engaging with people who grouse and moan about work. If they don't think that drugs and diagnostic labels do any good, fine. So long as they're following clinical standards and not endangering anyone, let them bellyache. They don't have to believe in a thing to do it.

People like this are energy vampires and not worth the time it would take to disagree with them publicly. Keep marching, let the ignorant comments about the pay of temporary contractors slide, and keep it about the work. There are nearly always things you can make better about a place, but moaning colleagues aren't in that list.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:40 AM on February 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

I sympathize 100% with the impulse to jump into debates with close-minded people, I really do. What works for me sometimes is the standard anxiety-calming exercise where you pull back and think about the big-picture consequences.

What's the worst that could happen if you leave these people stuck in their (apparently, incorrect?) beliefs about mental-health treatment? What's the best that could happen if you somehow magically succeeded in correcting them? Unless they're legislators, or actively mistreating patients based on these beliefs, then to you and your world it makes zero real difference either way what they think. Your success or failure in opening up their views would be like your success or failure at correcting some guy on the street who's mis-whistling a pop tune: maybe very mildly satisfying for a second or so, but in the last analysis absolutely a waste of your time and everybody else's.

These are a handful of random people in a random job. There is absolutely no way that their being wrong can hurt you.
posted by Bardolph at 3:42 AM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

You know what they say about water just rolling off a duck's back. You need to model yourself after a duck here. You mustn't engage these people. You're there to earn a living, not to engage in philosophical debate. Clearly, it would be nice if we could have those kinds of conversations in the workplace but I've never known it to do any good. You can try to enlighten these people or you could let them express their views and focus on the job at hand. You'll feel a lot less drained if you do the latter.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:21 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're not going to change anyone's mind on about this stuff. You're only aggregating yourself in the bargain.

Whenever they start in on that stuff, acknowledge and shift the subject.

They: You temps are lucky, you're making a pile of dough. Money for Jam.
You: Oh, don't I wish! So doing anything fun this weekend?

They: Bunch of beardy-weirdies marching around causing trouble. Pointless.
You: I don't know about that. Do you have the files for Dr. X?

They: This is useless. They don't need drugs or labels, they need to snap out of it.
You: It's not that easy for some people. Do you have the files for Dr. Z?

You see, you don't have to agree, and you don't have to confront them. Teach them not to start in on that stuff around you.

I'm a Democrat in a blue city in a red state. I'm often surrounded by people who are very conservative and spout nonsense. But I have to work with them and aside from their political views, we do have a lot of common ground about other things. If they start in, I let them know I disagree, and then I steer the conversation to something neutral.

If you're a temp, it inherently means that this is temporary. You don't have to make friends, all you have to do is be a pleasant co-worker. Do you honestly think you can change their minds? You can't.

This isn't a hill to picnic on, let alone die on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:38 AM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

nthing that this is a temp job. Even if the behavior of your new co-workers is outright bizarre, it's an opportunity for you to learn something about colleagues and workplaces.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how mentally diagnosing other people's stuff-- "these people are rigid thinkers"-- makes everything so much more aggravating. There is nothing you can really effect on that level. It may be helpful to recognize that someone's thinking is very different from yours, so that you don't have unrealistic expectations of changing their minds. Otherwise, I would suggest working at the level where you are deliberating on things that are directly relevant to the work at hand.
posted by BibiRose at 7:07 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow, sorry, for some reason I misread your point 3 (pictured the opposite, like a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest situation). Sounds like they take a more humanistic or systems approach? If they ascribe to a different philosophy around diagnosis and treatment, and you're working with them using this method, maybe there are things you can take from it, and things you can leave, within your scope.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:32 AM on February 7, 2015

I think it's worth detaching if this is casual conversation. If it's taking place during team meetings or consultations about clients, that's a slightly different issue, but how you approach it should depend a great deal on your training and experience relative to theirs.

I have a few co-workers who have startlingly different philosophies about mental-health treatment than I do, and I firmly believe their philosophies actively hurt clients (like, we're not just talking about different approaches, but completely old-fashioned paternalistic mindsets). I've been trying to chip away at it with relentless optimism and cheeriness, mostly. "Oh, that's not been my experience! Treatment can really help with X!" or "I think you're missing how well that client is doing in Y!" or "I've seen some really remarkable changes with people once they find the right medications!" or whatever. I have an advantage in that I'm a licensed clinician and these people are not, so even though I'm new-ish I have some clout, and in that our manager is very much trying to change the culture to be less paternalistic and so she supports me, as do a few other staff who are tired of the complaining and burn-out framing of our work.

When people (generally those same people) make ridiculous and sometimes odious comments about politics or something not directly tied to client care, I grit my teeth and let it go, though.
posted by jaguar at 9:41 AM on February 7, 2015

As a temp, your job is not to change their minds or change the working environment.

Your job is to keep your job, get paid, learn new skills, keep in touch with your placement firm, and do the absolute best job you can do. Be exceedingly polite, friendly and disengage from everything that you seem to want to address. Exceed their expectations with a minimum of fuss.

Repeat after me: your job is to keep your job. Do the best job possible. Keep busy, look for ways to get trained on new systems or new tasks. Eye on the prize.
posted by barnone at 10:47 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

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