My imperfection does not excuse your imperfection

It is more than marginally ironic that SmallAgency’s relationship with Floundering Non-Profit would be the tipping point to the end of my working at SmallAgency, a tipping point that also included an indicator to what the last straw would be: lack of accountability.

A couple of weeks ago in a project meeting ManBoss, whose pedagogical method is the equivalent of the classic ugly American in Europe (just keep saying the same thing louder hoping whomever you’re talking to will get it), was attempting to explain a concept to me I was only partially familiar with. Being stressed out, I wasn’t asking the right questions. Instead of saying “But wait, it sounds like you’re saying [X] which I know is wrong based on what I do understand about this concept. I can’t be hearing you right.” I kept trying to reconcile the patently wrong information he was giving me with what I knew and asking poorly formed questions. His reaction to this: to lose his temper and scream at me in front of another developer and the project manager on the job, storm out of the room muttering insults under his breath, and then slam the office door on the way out to get lunch about 60 seconds later.

Since I was off the next day, we weren’t able to address in incident immediately, which in retrospect was probably a good thing since his behavior was just the latest in what could most charitably be called “a developing pattern of inappropriately confrontational relationships with staff,” which is management speak for he’s been a condescending, sulky, moody prick for the last six months and I’m not the only one he’s been behaving badly toward. His behavior toward me was just the most extreme incident.

My next day back I asked for a meeting with him and WomanBoss to “discuss what happened in the project meeting” earlier in the week. I’m a little bit proud of myself. I had recently watched this lovely short video from Brené Brown on blame. Dr. Brown often uses herself as an example in her talks, which is something I find very motivating. But the gist of the blame talk is blaming someone else for your choices and actions and refusing to take accountability for your behavior is toxic. It’s infantile and it needs to stop.

In my meeting with ManBoss and WomanBoss I told them I’d been thinking about the incident earlier in the week, that I realized I wasn’t asking the questions I needed to ask in the right way, that instead of contextualizing and airing what I knew and how I was trying to integrate that with what ManBoss has been saying I had been doing all my processing internally leading to poor, confusing questions, and I understood how that was frustrating. I literally said “I take accountability for asking poor questions and I take accountability going forward for asking better, clearer questions in the future.”

Based on a “you get more flies with honey than with vinegar” conversation I’d had earlier in the morning with the Project Manager, who is very Southern and was present when ManBoss completely lost his shit in the meeting, instead of going in hard I asked ManBoss if we could agree that his behavior was inappropriate? His response: attack.

  • My behavior was inappropriate.
  • I “get angry” when people try to help me.
  • It takes me “forever to understand anything.”
  • He’s “just not seeing any improvement in my work.”

By this time we’d both increased our volume a bit and WomanBoss interjects with “I think we’re getting a little angry here.” Given that I wasn’t in the slightest bit angry, I told her I wasn’t angry at all. But yes, she did that silencing thing that often happens to women: if we speak at anything more than a conversational volume level we must be “angry.”

I tried to counter: yes, my work for Floundering Non-Profit wasn’t the best, but I didn’t want to open that can of worms, and I suggested that if he compared that project to the one I was actively on he’d see a big improvement. Nope, more attack.

  • My work on the current project was full of mistakes.
  • He’s constantly having to correct my work.

I allowed as how I hadn’t heard from the PM about any bugs, and I’d had an extensive conversation with her that morning, and if he was always having to correct my work and not telling me about it he wasn’t giving me the opportunity to improve. His response: he just doesn’t have time for that.

This is when I snapped. I got angry, and when I’m really angry I get quiet. I looked him straight in the eye and told him “nothing, no level of frustration, no opinion about the quality of my work or my skills, no amount of salary paid to me, nothing” gave him the right to speak to me the way he spoke to me the other day.

Sometimes, not often, you get to surprise people, and sometimes you get to see it. ManBoss literally did a double take, as if he expected me to just roll over, to not stand up for myself, and just give in.

At this point WomanBoss says we need to table (in the defer sense) the conversation for later while they come up with a work plan. I spent all day that and all day the next day, Friday, alone in the back of the office with ManBoss. It took me three xanax and half a dozen Tums to get through my workday. Sunday afternoon I resigned by email.

Given that ManBoss’ response to me asking him to take accountability for his behavior was a classic abuser response – “If you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have to hit you.” – I think I would have been justified just emailing my resignation and never going back in to the office. Given his response, is it any wonder I didn’t want to be alone with him? Given that for the past six months he’s been snappish, pouty, condescending, and generally cranky not just with me but with the PMs and the other two devs, how am I supposed to predict how he will respond to the simplest question? As TGF points out, he’s a big guy and I had no guarantee that the next time I asked him something he wouldn’t get physically violent.

Monday during the project hand-off ManBoss still took no responsibility for his actions, and I got yet another of those rare opportunities to surprise someone: when I told them I was prepared to offer them three weeks’ notice WomanBoss was visibly shocked, as if I would be unprofessional enough to just walk out that day.

They elected to have my last day be the end of the month, which was the end of the current pay period. So I have been officially unemployed for nine days.

But it hasn’t been all bad. One of the things I’ve discovered is how big and supportive my network of friends and professional contacts is. I am extremely lucky. I’ve already had one job interview. And I will come out of this better off. I’m already better off; I’ve started sleeping through the night more often than not, something I haven’t done in almost six months.

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