Micro work angst : "One volunteer! No, not you!"
February 10, 2017 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Please talk me down from rumination over a perceived slight in a work setting.

I am overly obsessing over a minor work thing. Am I over-reacting? If yes, talk me down, please?

At my workplace, there's a group of three health professionals in a health-related clinic setting.

There is a clinic manager that oversees about 10 paraprofessionals, but is not my direct supervisor.

The regional director (let's call her A.) oversees all the professionals, spanning about 12-15 of the clinics. We really don't see her that much, maybe once or twice a year, and it's generally very hands-off.

At a recent meeting, A. said, we need one of you to be the take over some duties related to regulatory compliance. There was about 30 seconds of silence, then I volunteered. There was another 30 seconds of silence, then a topic change.

Later on, I had to leave the meeting. I was told that after I left, A. turned to one of the other professionals (call them B.) and said "so, um, how about you take this on."

Which leaves me wondering, if the decision was already made, why even bring it up in the first place? This whole thing left me feeling a bit foolish and a lot insecure.

Should I :
1. Listen to my gut and start an exit strategy? I like most of the people at this workplace.
2. Forget about it.
3. Ask the director what happened there, so as to clear the air, especially as I have a feeling the clinic manager may or may not have been complaining about me. Exact wording for this would be much appreciated.
posted by metaseeker to Work & Money (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I personally would ask. It doesn't sound good, but you may be missing important back story.

"Sharon, do you have some time for me? I'd like to ask if you have some feedback regarding my performance. The other day in the meeting, I was a little surprised that when I volunteered for X job I perceived you were unwilling to consider me for the role. Did I understand that correctly?"

then *listen* to her response. If she's evasive or doesn't want to answer then, yeah, I'd be looking for the door. If she gets defensive or aggressive don't argue with her and back away nicely. "oh, I see, my misunderstanding! thanks for setting it straight!" and then exit strategy. But hopefully she's willing to address your concerns and either give you feedback: "I was a little surprised you volunteered given that you have complained about your workload multiple times." or "Oh, we really wanted Barbara to take the role since her last job involved a lot of compliance work. Sorry that we made it awkward!"

Remember that when you ask for feedback, you're likely to get it, so steel yourself to not get defensive or reactive whatever you hear. But, it's better to ask then to leave a job you like when it may not be necessary.
posted by frumiousb at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2017 [38 favorites]

So, the regional director who is hands off and sees you guys 1-2x a year did this?

My immediate first thought: did she hear you? Are you certain that she did?

My second thought: you are one of 120 people she sees on a very irregular basis. Is there any chance she heard you volunteer, didn't remember your name and isn't good with faces, and accidentally assumed someone else said it?
What to do:

I would ask your immediate supervisor if there is anything you need to work on. I would not ask A. If there is any way to guarantee A remembers you very specifically and in an awkward and neutral to negative way, it is asking her about this. If you really, truly feel like you need to find some way to distinguish yourself among your peers, I would reach out to your direct supervisor and say you're interested in more responsibility, and does she have any projects she'd like you to take on. I would not make any assumptions this means anything negative about you.
posted by arnicae at 5:00 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm always volunteering for projects that my supervisor (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) assumes I'm too busy to take on. She has work priorities for me that outweigh my willingness to take on new work. If I feel she's prioritized around me needlessly, especially if I have some unique skill or knowledge that others who might volunteer lack, I bring it up with her privately by phone or in an email. It's taken a long time for us to build reciprocal trust about these issues, and we don't always agree--but she's my superior so I defer to her. But if she played one of these situations as you've described, I would certainly ask her about it. You may find that asking about the situation keeps it from recurring in this shady-feeling way in the future.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:12 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

To clarify - this happened with direct eye contact in a face to face meeting with 6 people sitting at a table. And A. is actually my immediate supervisor - we just don't talk that often.
posted by metaseeker at 5:48 PM on February 10, 2017

The thing about the interpretation where she actually didn't want you is that it makes it really odd that she would ask for volunteers in a small group (assuming that only one of you three can do this?). That seems to be asking for awkwardness if she actually only wanted one of the other two to do it. Why not just ask them directly?

I would ask for clarification. If there is an issue with your performance this would be one of the most strange ways to communicate it.
posted by jojobobo at 6:24 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Both #1 and #3.
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with the comment you marked as best answer. I'll just add, think about whether being denied for this role means you must leave. Regulatory compliance involves certain skills. If those skills aren't core to your daily duties, then it's not a threat to your livelihood if they don't think you're right for those additional duties. Nobody's good at everything, and maybe your strengths lie elsewhere. It could be that they'd happily have accepted your offer to volunteer for some other new piece that would build on your strengths. Good luck with the conversation.
posted by salvia at 8:48 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your boss didn't think you were capable of doing the job required and was surprised when you volunteered.

Do as frumiousb said: ask what happened and listen carefully without being defensive. Then take some time to process the feedback.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:03 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you always volunteer? Maybe she thought it was time for someone else.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:47 AM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was told that after I left, A. turned to one of the other professionals (call them B.) and said "so, um, how about you take this on."

Did your supervisor ever relay this to you directly? If not, might she be expecting you to perform the task for which you volunteered? I would consider the possibility of sabotage by one of your coworkers, and clarify with the supervisor before proceeding.
posted by dustkee at 2:32 AM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

It seems really unclear what A. is now expecting to happen, and it would be odd for her to rely on office chat to tell you about a change of plan.
Do you know for certain that B. is taking on the work?
Is it actually the same work? Or do you and B. work in different enough contexts that it would make sense for both of you to take on these responsibilities in your respective areas?

I agree with best-answer that you should clarify with A. but it doesn't even need to be asking for feedback, it could be as simple as confirming your willingness to do the work and seeing how she responds.
posted by doiheartwentyone at 6:02 AM on February 11, 2017

I agree with responders up thread. There may be feedback you can get on this that would be helpful, though not necessarily fun to hear.

For instance, I manage a pretty big team and needed a volunteer from one of my supervisors to pick up running out monthly team meetings. Got one volunteer. While I appreciated him coming forward-man, he's an awful meeting leader. Hardworker, takes his job seriously, but not dynamic, very negative with folks, and doesn't know how to inspire people. If I need a work rotation structured and managed-he's my guy! While I'm the complete reverse-I can't organize and maintain logistical things to save my life.

What I'm trying to say here is that just volunteering doesn't mean you're the best fit-and that's ok. I can't be good at everything and neither can you. My manager isn't a bad guy, he's just a human being with strengths and weaknesses like we all have.
posted by purenitrous at 8:27 AM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Calm down, take a few deep breaths. Don't let this ruin even one day, one hour.

"A" sounds like a real A.H.

Ask your director what went down. Then take it from there.

Good Luck
posted by james33 at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I did this to someone because if I got a certain contract I wanted them in charge of that but I couldn't talk about it. Always kept my best in reserve but learned to do it better.

Seek feedback immediately.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:03 AM on February 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I asked for a chat over coffee to catch up. Without my saying anything, she asked me if I'd like to take care of another smaller project. Neither us of mentioned the previous awkward exchange. I asked for feedback and braced myself to listen without reaction, and it was all positive. So all's well that ends well, and thanks to everyone for your advice. It was very helpful to hear your perspectives.
posted by metaseeker at 4:22 PM on March 17, 2017

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