Calm amidst work chaos
September 4, 2015 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I just got a contract job. I predict it will be intense and chaotic. Seeking strategies to help me perform well and manage interpersonal relationships.

It's a hectic and high-profile contract, organized haphazardly and at the last minute.

I am taking on "the fun part" of a project that some other people have been slugging at for a while.
The company and boss have a reputation for being disorganized and sometimes bad-tempered.
Many individuals at the company have longstanding, very close relationships- more like family than regular colleagues.
My role has not been clarified yet, either to me or the staff, but some comments gave the impression that my late addition to the team has ruffled some feathers.

I can already see potential for friction with Dale, a key player (unfortunately my fun new duties were Dale's fun former duties- and Dale now has to support me while I do all the fun stuff, ouch). The boss did not introduce me to the team, so I think Dale learned about my existence from an email forward with a to-do list of dull tasks to support my role- ouch again, and I totally understand the irritation, but I also don't want to be marinated in it. So far Dale has made passive-aggressive comments about our roles, interrupted me, contradicted me, and answered my questions with a flat, dismissive, "that thing you want does not exist". When I politely pointed out that it does, Dale said "well there's no way to get it" (but there is). I had to work hard not to snap back. I'm worried I'll snap back.

Also- the boss, Alex, is late and casual with requests but then expects full immediate fulfillment, even if that speed is very near to physically impossible. And the disorganization trickles down and causes stress. Luckily Alex is enthusiastic about my skills and trusts my opinions, so I don't feel we'll have interpersonal friction- I'm just concerned about the logistical mess and the pressure it puts on the rest of the team to support my role.

I will probably have to work hard to be compassionate and calm and unruffled. This job is by nature stressful-- and my role, though fun, is high-pressure and requires focus and a positive emotional state. I can handle the disorganization and chaos, but my pet peeves are passive-aggressiveness and people who point out flaws or shut down ideas without offering alternative positive solutions, and Dale really seems like that type.

I sense potential for huge frustration. I really really want to excel in this role. I have no worries about the actual JOB, but the infrastructure and people and reputation and disorganization and resentful tone are making me worried.

I plan to:
Be early for meetings for a bit of chat time, be friendly and get to know everyone.
Try not to flaunt the fun parts that others are missing out on.
Recognize and appreciate everyone else's hard work, Dale's in particular.
Be impeccable with my own work and request as little support as possible.
Try to meet resentful comments and chaos with compassion, and a calm, "How can I help?"

What else can I do to stay calm, focussed on the long-term goal, and polite to people who are being rude or unreasonably disorganized?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a camp counselor? A cruise director? A G.O. at ClubMed? No? Then it's not your job to be friendly, make people happy and to placate others who behave boorishly.

The thing here is to disassociate other people's behavior and unhappiness from your own professional worth. Any plan that includes not asking for support is foolish and counterproductive. You are a contractor hired to do a job. Your peers need to support that or your boss needs to resolve it. You don't snap back, but you calmly and repeatedly demand the things you need to do your job. The five steps you outline are cowering in a corner - be friendly, don't ask, respond to malice with offers to help. That's is a recipe for making yourself crazy and abused. Don't do it.

It's sounds like you are working with jerks - and hey, we've all been there. You need to honor your own worth. Do your job. Be professional - not a doormat.
posted by 26.2 at 7:07 PM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with your action plan so far, without disagreeing with 26.2's take.

I would recommend assuring your physical needs are met. Make a plan for healthy, appealing meals and beverages so that your day doesn't degenerate into starvation, coffee and vending machine dinner, sugar highs and crashes. Try to get one break outside during the day to see sunlight, focus your eyes in the distance, run an errand or take care of a personal matter, check in with a friend or loved one.

Aerobic exercise is great for the type of resiliency you are seeking. My favorite person to work with, ever, in a stressed chaotic environment made sure he took his 40 minute bike ride into the hills everyday, and when it was too rainy for that he'd put on running shoes and do a few miles. It gave him an incredible calm and poise in the face of the crazy stuff we were dealing with. Must be the oxiginated blood. If exercise is already part of your lifestyle, don't neglect it; if it is easy to add, such as you have access to a gym or can rearrange your commute to include walking or biking, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it. Even 10 minutes daily will help.

Read the emotional labor thread if it doesn't make you upset to do so. No, you don't have to read it all at once, I took it in 15 minute bursts. I know it leans heavily into gender issues, but I found a great universal takeaway and inspiration in the stories of people who were able to face whatever specific flavor of tantrum with, "Yes, I see you are having *flavor-specific* tantrum because of x and y. X is not in my wheelhouse and y is a nonissue. Let's move on." It provides a great wealth of affirmation and calibration for your bullshit meter and it can be encouraging to find you are not alone in these emotionally taxing work experiences.

I think Difficult Dale is a big fat stinky red herring in your narrative. Your challenge here is dysfunctional boss. For one, your "unclarified role" is disturbing to me. You are a contractor for pete's sake! You contract must contain a scope and deliverables? If not, I'd say you first task would be to shape that up and make a 6 week plan or appropriately-timed-for-your-industry benchmarks or something.

And what about the "Fuck You!" Fee? I hope that is in your contract. As in, "We outlined a 40 hour workweek for n months accomplishing x,y, and z tasks, and it has turned into 70 on a consistent basis due to your indecisiveness, inability to take the expert advise for which you contracted me, and unwillingness to reign in your disfunctional team? Well, Fuck You! You're getting invoiced the "Fuck You!" Fee!" If it doesn't, think about negotiating the above duties scope with a very clear eye to deliverable accomplishments that will benifit your career standing, an exit strategy, and a bail-out plan. (Actually, you should have these regardless.)

You can't fix the world, you can only govern yourself, and sometimes no amount of money is worth the soul-crushing frustration of trying to be productive in a system that is disfunctional.

Best of luck to you!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:23 AM on September 5, 2015

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