Friday, January 09, 2009

A Healthy Dose of Fear

Generally, I can be described as mild-mannered. Even-keeled. Reasonable. There are times I can definitely be described as a pushover. Living 22 years of my life in Minnesota, I tend to handle unsettling situations in a passive aggressive manner. You know, with a kind note hinting at why I am correct or justified in my actions and why someone who might feel the way the other feels might possibly be considered wrong or unreasonable. This is the way things are done in the Midwest. Indeed, it takes very much to piss me off to the point of direct confrontation and a special kind of anger to get me to raise my voice.

I am afraid the Northeast is changing me. If there is one very foreign thing I've learned about the Northeast it's that people here like confrontation. Good and bad. I've been asked at the grocery store where I found the garlic bread and then sought out and corrected when I "told them the wrong aisle" (in quotes because I told them the correct aisle, they went to the wrong one and then yelled at me about it). Dean has been hollered at by other customers for accidentally standing in the express lane with too many items. We've also had several complete strangers make fervent menu recommendations at restaurants and then ask why we didn't follow through on their suggestions. This type of style forces one to engage. And after a while it rubs off. I haven't yet done any of the aforementioned things, but I've noticed it takes less effort and less general pissing off for me to speak up. Where before I would endure an awkward situation to avoid dealing with people, I am starting to see the value in making your feelings known loud and clear.

For example, last week at work I noticed a piece of equipment in my workspace had been taken and replaced with a defective one. Unfortunately, I didn't notice this until after I ran the experiment with the faulty piece of equipment and got bad results, essentially wasting a good part of my day. Since I share my workspace with a grad student, I asked him about the defective equipment and he pointed out the fact that ours had been swapped out because all the equipment in our workspace has his initials on it to distinguish it in just such an instance. By this time it was late in the day and most everyone had left. So I poked around other peoples' workspaces until I saw the equipment with my partner's initials on it, plugged in and working beautifully. Turns out the guy who took it is already not one of my favorite people for some questionable work ethic he showed upon his arrival to our group. So I decided the next day I would confront him about it. Not in a mean way, just ask him why he thought replacing someone's equipment with defective equipment without notification was the appropriate course of action.

Well, the next morning when I asked him about it he got quite defensive. He admitted to taking my equipment without asking and giving me a defective one without telling me. I told him I had ruined an experiment because of this and he retorted that he actually replaced it awhile back and I hadn't noticed so I must not have needed it. I explained that that wasn't the point, he had no way of knowing whether I would be needing it or not and taking people's stuff without asking isn't cool. By this time, by voice was above my normal speaking voice and edging towards yelling. We are thankfully one of the better funded university labs that I know of. I have had to work in a lab where too many people are sharing equipment, where we have to fix our own stuff that isn't working, and make ends meet to the detriment of our productivity. That isn't the case here at all. If a $100 piece of equipment breaks, you buy a new one with your grant money. You don't need to ask Boss, you just place the order and a new one will show up a couple days later. If someone's equipment broke and they wanted to borrow mine for a couple days before the one on order arrived because I wasn't using it, that's fine. I'd be glad to help. But to me, taking without asking and failing to attempt to replace either of ours was simply unacceptable.

Unfortunately, either due to language barrier or culture clash, this never sank in with him no matter how much I hollered or how red I got in the face. But it did sink in with everyone else, who by that time had grown quiet to watch the spectacle. Ever since I have been treated...differently. A couple people have appeared slightly frightened to ask me for something. One girl, who I have always thought of as rather brash and bossy, has actually been sucking up to me a little. I have been as nice as possible, but in their eyes I see my shitfit replayed. And you know what? I think I'm okay with that. This is a temporary (1-2 year) appointment. I'm not looking to make lifelong friends with these people. I'm just trying to not have my workplace stripped for parts like a tourist parked in the ghetto. The Northeast me kicks butts and takes names.


mil said...

Good for you MB! Maybe for even more effect you should start carrying that unbrella shaped like a baseball bat to work - rain or shine.

Jackie said...

Good for you! I hate it when people "borrow" something without asking, and then when confronted about it say, "well you would have let me use it had I asked!" That just makes me so mad, cause yes, I probably would have let them use it, no questions asked, but the problem is they DIDN'T ask. grrr

Glad you stuck up for yourself and your stuff!

Anonymous said...

I'm from the Midwest and I love me some confrontation, though I realize I'm in the minority.

New nickname: Magnet Bitch.

(My word verification is 'labless.' Let's hope not!)

Anonymous said...

Way to go girl!! You might as well nip it in the bud. And apparently it has earned you a little respect from the other staff. I'm a very small woman and learned early in life that I had to speak up to avoid the doormat syndrome from setting in. Catsfursure.

gabrielle said...

Good on you, MB. You have certainly earned your stripes!!!

What you are describing in the supermarket is just plain rude.

Being a Norhteasterner accustomed to direct communication, I have had quite a learning curve in conflict adverse Minneapolis. I still prefer fair and honest disagreement to passive aggressive, but I have had to modify my style to get heard. Should be interesting the next time we are together!!!

Jeni said...

"KIck butt and take names" huh? Good one! And I think in a case like this one, you'd really have to stand up to the offender and get -or at least try to get your point across. Point being that you were completely within your right to do so!

Minnesotablue said...

That's my girl!

Hot4Teacha said...

I'm beaming with pride, as I also do the passive-agressive-sure-okay-but-here's-why-I'm-right-despite-my-letting-it-go thing. You rock, sista!!

Scott said...

You certainly can't be faulted for being unreasonable. He had it coming.

I guess I'm not surprised that everyone is so timid around you now, but I'm pretty sure if I were in the same lab and saw what happened I would have congratulated you for sticking up for what was right. Doesn't everyone see that what he did was wrong?

Why is it that when a woman asserts herself that she is labeled a bitch? (I'm not knocking on the comment from spants at all) If a guy did it I think it would have been business as usual.

I know you are only going to be there for a couple years, but I think anyone worth their salt wouldn't hold that against you.

kalajian said...

Who'da Thunk?!?! :)

Dianne said...

I think this is a wonderful and exciting development. Especially since the inner real you won't change - just the outward situational you.

I have always lived in the NE so I know the style really well - hell NYC is like the Olympics of survival and confrontation ;)

Beth said...

Where are you in the Northeast? I've been a NYer most of my life and no one pulls any of that with me in the store or at restaurants. Shit, I don't know what I'd do if someone, some complete stranger, behaved that way, but I do believe in kicking butt and taking names. I mean, in the workplace, you just can't settle for constant crap.

magnetbabe said...

mil: I could use it on the bus, too.

jackie: I totally agree. Just ask. K? Ask.

spants: That's better than the nickname my labmate gave me, "Natalie Barracuda."

catsfursure: Door mat syndrome is right. Fortunately I'd never been in a work place situation where that was a problem before.

gabrielle: I think the longer I spend here the more difficult it will be to swallow the PA of the midwest. I appreciate your style the more time that passes.

jeni: Yeah, but I still didn't get my hotplate. Someone suggested I do the same to him, but I see that turning into a never ending spiral of frustration.

minnesotablue: Thanks, but it was my midwest upbringing that made it so difficult to do in the first place.

hot4teacha: But you just have to still get your point across, right? I think you're pretty communicative for a midwesterner. That's a compliment. ;)

scott: People in the lab stayed verbally neutral (which was a little frustrating) but I've gotten hints that mostly people thought I was in the right. I don't know what to tell you about the whole "bitch" thing. It's interesting. I myself have been guilty at times of perpetuating it fully realizing the double standard. You'd think science would be different, but there are still the occasional social leaps that need to be made.

kalajian: Surprised? It's the cold weather making me cantankerous. :P

dianne: Yes, the two times I've been to NYC were utterly terrifying. The area I'm in now is good practice for when I go back, but still not the real thing. Thanks for the encouragement as always.

beth: Providence. People are surprisingly strange here. I plan to write more about it later.

Beth said...

OK, I spent some time in Providence and I hated it. I can't wait to read your thoughts.

Wasn't yesterday awesome?

magnetbabe said...

beth: Agreed. And agreed.

labwench said...

sometimes the need to put your foot down outweighs the inclination to be nice.

my labmates are all guys and have come to learn that when i get snarky, there is usually a very good reason for it. and being snarky has ensured that my lab tools stay where i leave them.

our lab tools are labeled "mine", "not yours", etc. it's amusing and allows us to use the tools of those who have been laid off without as much guilt (guilt for being thankful you still have a job).