Thursday, June 28, 2012

Have you ever had the office go silent on you?

It happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in meeting at an open area within the office floor. At first there was ambient noise with other colleagues in their cubicles speaking, typing.

My meeting got heated. A few colleagues, including myself, got pretty loud in saying how a recent internal work process was making things less productive rather than more (details aren't important; I can't share them anyway).

Moments later, I realised the office went quiet.

I had mixed feelings of righteous anger and embarrassment. I guess it was the realisation that we had called attention to ourselves.

The problem with verbal outbursts is that people around me won't grasp the full context. They are likely to remember that I was the one who got angry. Not good for my image, I thought.

I once read that only passionate workers get angry. If they don't it means they don't care.

When other colleagues have been rather exuberant in expressing their resentment (either at me or not) I take it in stride. In some case, I assure them it's OK to have that outburst, in private was preferred. The rationale is that it's a privilege, generally speaking, that co-workers are comfortable with me to speak or express emotions truthfully.

But personally I try not to show outbursts at work (btw, I fail miserably at home as my wife would point out). Some colleagues thankfully remind me on those occasions, diplomatically. Justified or not, I prefer to play the 'emotion-less' administrator.

Still, sometimes I forget.

Have you ever been in this situation?


  1. Ollie8:48 am

    You "prefer to play the 'emotion-less' [sic] administrator," eh? Does this also entail sitting Buddha-like behind the seventh floor reference desk with an exasperatingly placid look on your face while an impatient or ignorant patron vehemently expresses a concern or makes a complaint about some aspect of the library's workings? Since actually being without emotion is impossible, are you confessing to being passive-aggressive? I.e., you let the patron deliver his rant to a seemingly unmovable object while all the while thinking, 'Just wait till this jerk needs some special service or other from the library: I'll put his butt in a sling.' Or do you simply refuse to acknowledge the patron's emotional expression with any emotion of your own - be it of displeasure or disagreement or sympathy - and so, instead of appearing human, which in many cases is at least half of what the patron is seeking (I mean, like, the last thing he needs in a problem situation is another "emotion-less administrator," right?) probably come across precisely as you have said you want to: as just another stone-cold, thick, information-refusenik of a bureaucrat? I can't think of a more condescending, patronizing approach to difficult situations. It amounts, really, to a defense mechanism. No, I'd much rather have you express yourself with passion. And is the prerequisite of passionate expression a shout, a waving of arms, and a jumping up and down? Of course it isn't. I replied at length to your post about blog composition and the passion in my reply, the eagerness to join in and offer help, was, I think, evident. What did I get in return? "Too much of a good thing is bad. Chill man." Do you have any idea of the restraint I had to impose on myself not to come back and hammer you for this superficial remark? Too much of a good thing? Like we were talking about booze, drugs, sex, candy, or soda pop. But what we were talking about was composition, something I happen to know a little about and was eager - hungry, even - to share with you, since it was evident to me that you were not nearly as effective as you could have been in your writing instruction. And as to your speaking with colleagues in private about disagreeable disagreements: where was your professionalism when you publicly replied to my replies about writing pedagogy with a curt, dismissive remark? I remember thinking: why couldn't he have e-mailed me his displeasure instead of humiliating me in front of certain readers of his blog whom he knows I care a great deal for? Because the reason I restrained myself from blasting back at you was I thought about your audience, the people likely to read your blog, and out of consideration for you held my fire and instead swallowed my pride and apologized. But I was hurt, Ivan. And it sounds to me that you were, too, in the episode you describe here. Hurt and angry. But, hey, it happens to all of us - except maybe QQ; she never loses her cool, right? Your post is riddled with self-justification, and as Anthony Wilden said in one of his remarkable books (System and Structure, I think ), "There's no justification for self-justification." Anyway, you asked for feedback, buddy, and you got it. (P.S. You might like to know that I've fallen madly in love with a lovely woman from Fuzhou (but she's taken U.S. citizenship) - and, yes, it's another hopeless love for reasons that I won't go into here except to say that the reasons are the same as the ones that plagued me in Singapore. I seem always to be too late! But why am I telling you this? Because perhaps it explains my mood, the need to burst out - to have an outburst, as you call it. In short, to vent. And I'm already feeling bad about some of what I've written here (Ivan, old buddy, you know I'm a good guy and I know you are, too), but will let it stand because it might motivate others to remark. Take care wo de pengyou.)

  2. Ollie, you and I have never met. It is unsettling to me that you write as if we are old friends. Please do not hijack my blog with your rants and long drawn commentary. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous1:38 pm

    Hi, Ivan
    I am a silent reader of your blog :)
    Your posting really calls out to me. I am having a difficult time at work currently. For having done the right thing (elevate matters to mgt), but now it is obvious that colleagues are giving me the cold shoulder, with hushed whispers near lunchtime as they plan quiet escapes to lunch without me. But I stand by what I have done, so my conscience is clear, and I will and have not badmouthed anyone.

    This type of situation happen in all workplaces, all over the world. The most important thing is to be able to see and hear the other side of the story.

    I always believe that it is a case of er4 ren2 xian1 gao4 zhuang4, so the agressors will be judged.

  4. Hi!
    I'm sorry to hear about what you went through.

    It's not something that happens at the workplace. I had similar experiences in school with my classmates too. It was hard to face the 'people' but I chose to let myself grow and mature with the experience. Since you stood up for what you believed in, just let the feelings pass.

    Smile, you have a FIJ, the real Ollie :P

  5. Being human is a messy business indeed. Onward and upward. Peace.

  6. We have similar moments in our office from time to time. I haven't been the one that the office has gone silent on yet, but I don't think badly of those that sometimes get into these sort of heated discussions. It just means they're passionate and actually have an opinion about something.


Join the conversation. Leave a comment :)