Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Getting Offended

I am not a fan of meetings.  They always seem to drag on forever.  Conversation tends to stray from the intended topic.  I do okay if I have something to read or a crossword puzzle to do.  This doesn't work very well in small group meetings, however.  When there are only four or five people in the room it's harder to hide the fact that you're doing something completely unrelated and are not paying attention to what's being said.  In these types of meetings I end up talking too much in an effort to stay engaged. 

It's always been difficult for me to just sit quietly and listen to someone talk for extended periods of time.  You may recall that I have narcolepsy; extended periods of inactivity tend to put me to sleep, literally.  In college, I used to read and take notes during lectures.  It was actually easier for me to pay attention when I was simultaneously engaged in doing something else than it was for me to give my "undivided" attention. 

Because I can't avoid meetings (which would definitely be my preference if given a choice) I try to cope with them the best I can.  Since the strategy for paying attention I used in college worked well for me I naturally continued to use it when I joined the workforce.  Unfortunately, this caused a lot of problems when I first started at my current job.  My supervisor at the time made comments to others about how disrespectful it was of me to read during meetings and presentations.  It was obvious to me (and to a lot of other people) that my supervisor did not like me very much.  It wasn't until the comments he'd made got back to me that I understood why.

I decided it was in my best interest for my supervisor to like me.  I started going out of my way to show I was paying attention in meetings.  I participated and contributed way more than I wanted to.  But it seemd to work.  Over time, my supervisor gradually warmed up to me.

Something about me ...When I get excited about something (which isn't very often) I have a tendency to go overboard.  I keep talking about it when I know I should shut up.  I realize this is a personal flaw but I have a very difficult time controlling it.  This sometimes happens in meetings at work.  Because I feel compelled to engage (as I mentioned before) I go out of my way to participate in discussions.  Occasionally something interesting comes up and I get excited about it.  Because I'm excited I keep talking about it far longer than necessary.  I'm sure this annoys people; it annoys me.  On the other hand, everyone has flaws.  Most of my coworkers know me well enough to realize my intentions are good. 

But apparently this is not always the case.  The other day my boss (not the same supervisor I mentioned earlier) came to my office.  (I absolutely hate it when this happens because it's never a good thing).  She wanted to tell me that one of my colleagues who'd attended a meeting the week before was very upset because I'd interrupted him.  She was of the opinion that he could have easily handled the problem at the meeting by simply telling me to let him finish speaking.  She didn't understand why he felt the need to complain to someone else (who then went to her for feedback).  Nevertheless, she advised me to be mindful of this in the future. 

I checked my email later that day.  I noticed I'd received an email from the colleague who had complained about me.  I opened it.  The email was brief.  He wanted to talk to me about "something that happened at the meeting last week" and wanted to know when I would be available. 

At this point I was annoyed.  Okay, so maybe I was already a little annoyed but now I was irritated.  It seemed far too much was being made over a very minor incident.  This guy's complaint had already gotten me scolded by my boss.  Now I had to schedule a time for him to call and chastise me? 

I didn't respond right away.  Actually, I considered not responding at all.  The more I thought about it the more pissed off I became.  My mind went back and forth with itself.  Was I being too defensive?  Was I just upset because I'd been criticized?  I know I don't like criticism -- nodbody does.  But I make a conscious effort to try to accept it when it's warranted, no matter how defensive I feel. 

Honestly though, I wasn't even sure it was the criticism itself I was upset about.  Okay, so I interuppted him.  I know I have a habit of doing this when I get excited.  I know it's a problem.  It might sting a little to have someone else point it out but it's probably the best thing to help me break the habit. 

The thing is, the guy who complained hadn't pointed it out to me.  Instead, the chain of events went something like this: 1. I unintentionally offend a colleague at a meeting.  I do not know I have offended him.  He says nothing about being offended.  2. He apparently pulls my coworker aside after the meeting.  He tells her he is offended.  He says if I am going to interrupt him then he is not going to come to the meetings anymore.  He asks her to speak to me about it.  3.  My coworker doesn't feel comfortable speaking to me about it.  Instead, she goes to our boss for advice.  My boss says she should advise the offended colleague to simply tell me he was offended.  She was sure I didn't mean to offend him and would promptly apologize for doing so.  4.  My coworker communicates this message to the offended colleague.  5.  In the meantime, my boss comes in to my office to talk to me about another issue.  She also mentions that a colleague was offended that I'd interrupted him.  She asked me to be mindful of this in the future.  I say okay.  6.  The offended colleague receives the feedback advising him to address his concern with me himself.  He sends me an email to schedule a time to talk about "something that happened in the meeting last week."  You know the rest.

I was convinced that my offended colleague had not handled the situation correctly.  There are a lot of un-offensive, socially acceptable ways to say, "Please don't interrupt me" or "Please let me finish speaking."  If he'd said something, I probably would have apologized right then and shut up.  No big deal.  Still, I wasn't sure if this was a valid reason for me to be upset. 

I ended up seeking advice from a trusted coworker.  She agreed that the whole thing had been blown way out of proportion.  She suggested I reply to the offended colleague's email telling him my boss had already spoken to me about the issue and apologizing for interrupting him.  So that's exactly what I did. 

He emailed a response.  He accepted my apology.  He also suggested that, in the future, I don't give any feedback unless someone asks for it.  Ha!


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  4. Probably, this one of hardest things to change in myself, is not reacting to how others treat or see you. While at times it might be incorrect or even spot on, all you can is examine sensations as they present themselves on your body. Your body will tell if they are correct and lead you to gradually change, and if they are wrong then it also informs you of what you need to let go of....such as worrying about how others perceive you.
    Maybe one day, we will never get offended because it assigns blame on others which is useless when it is really our fault.

  5. You're absolutely right. It's just so hard to step back from that initial emotional reaction!


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