Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Somebody is going to regret this

File under: When We Were Young, Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:25 pm.

“Applicant must be willing to travel”, read the job ad, and they weren’t kidding: I’ve got five trips scheduled this quarter alone, and they range in purpose from the interesting to the Dilbertesque. Next month, for example, I am to attend a conference that will teach me the ins and outs of effectively managing one’s employees, and I leave the taxonomy of that one as an exercise to the reader.

I’ll give the reader a hint: I do not, myself, have any employees. I am the managee in this relationship, not the manager.

And another: preparation for said conference involved taking a personality test, which revealed such things as - try to contain your shock - “subject is highly independent”, “subject is task-oriented” and “subject scored in the lowest decile on the ‘cooperation’ scale”; in other words, subject is the sort of person for whom it would be in everyone’s best interest if subject were just left to do her bloody job, as opposed to, say, attend a conference on managing one’s employees. Oh, and subject is a pain in the ass to manage.

And, a little anecdote that I know full well does not constitute a reliable statistic, BUT STILL: during my tenure as a college math instructor, every single one of my most difficult and manipulative students, to an individual, was a psych major. For whatever reason, these students were really interested in human behaviour.

And, just for good measure, a story from my childhood: when I was five years old, my mom had this childhood development book called Your Five Year Old. Not included in the book: anything about the five-year-old who was so precocious, and so antagonistic, that she would pry the book off of the shelf while her pregnant mother napped, and say to herself, “The child may be extremely bold one minute and shy the next? Nuh-uh, Mom, I’m afraid it’s going to be just a little more difficult to predict my behaviour.”

I tend to be brutally straightforward and impatient in any sort of team setting: I tell people explicitly what I want, and they don’t deliver, I do it myself. I perceive - uncharitably, to be sure - anything else as manipulation, which is why I’d be a crappy manager and have no overwhelming desire to be one. And I am hyperalert to any hint that I am being manipulated by, for instance, a superior who is choosing his words in such a way as to elicit a certain sort of response that he would not get if he were being more direct. And when I sense that someone is trying to manipulate me, I am quick to respond in kind. Skillfully.

And here I am, not only being led into temptation, but collecting Air Miles for the trip.


  1. Ha! Management training for someone who isn’t managing someone. What a perfect waste of time, especially since you already know how to deal with people who are trying to manage you!

    It was once my privilege to heed my dean’s plea (see? I was managed!) to attend a summer meeting of the college district’s technology committee as a faculty representative for my campus. It soon became very clear that the district technology manager in charge of the meeting wanted us to endorse a push for more on-line course offerings. However, she did not tell us that, she merely kept prodding us in that direction, mainly by adding “on-line classes” to every list of “district priorities” that we created while brainstorming our goals. I turned to one of my colleagues and whispered, “Do you ever feel like you’re being herded?” She smiled and said, “Baa, baa!”

    Fortunately, the manager who preferred to manipulate us into endorsing her goals is gone now, perhaps because her manipulations were so transparent they usually failed.

    - Zeno — 1/30/2006 @ 10:21 pm

  2. every single one of my most difficult and manipulative students, to an individual, was a psych major. For whatever reason, these students were really interested in human behaviour.

    I keep running into statements like this–often enough so that, while I don’t mean to fall in love with any anecdata here, I’m nonetheless starting to think there’s something to that correlation.

    I tell people explicitly what I want, and they don’t deliver, I do it myself

    That’s actually the management style I prefer (and I’m sure I’m not alone in that), though telling me again a second time before doing it themselves is appreciated, as having a boss do something herself that she’s previously instructed me to do for her is about the worst humiliation I can suffer on a job. Which, hmm, may explain why I’ve seldom been in the situation of having to be told to do anything twice.

    No managers seem to use that blunt, direct style anymore, and I think that only ends up wasting time and money in the long run. Every 2 weeks, for example, my current boss sends around a horribly polite “please correct your errors in the time-clock software” email and lists the names of the employees who’ve somehow managed to screw up the process of clicking one button to clock IN and another button to clock OUT. I guess I’ve acquired the skill of clocking in and out, if nothing else, because I’m never on the list–but that doesn’t stop me from reading it every time, because the same handful of names are ALWAYS on that list, and I keep waiting for one of them to drop off, but none of them ever, ever does. It’s like a Hall of Fame roster for stupidity.

    In the bad old days, a manager would call each one of these chronic offenders up and say, “Listen, you screw up your time sheet one more time, you’re out of a job,” and that would be that. Instead my boss has to play these games where she effectively apologizes for other people’s screw-ups: “Gee everybody, if it’s not too much trouble for you, would you mind reviewing your time sheets and making sure everything has been recorded all okey-dokey-like?”

    It’s not only inefficient, indirect. faintly manipulative communication, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Particularly mine, because I can’t stop reading these dumb emails. The suspense kills me: “Did Bernadette figure out the time clock yet?–Aaaaannnd that looks like a big ‘NO’ for this pay period, everybody!”

    - ilyka — 1/30/2006 @ 11:47 pm

  3. I am to attend a conference that will teach me the ins and outs of effectively managing one’s employees, and […] I do not, myself, have any employees.

    Suggestion: do everything you can to avoid looking like you want to (or can) manage employees. Because there are only two reasons any company would want you to take such a course: 1) it has too much money on its hands or 2) it wants you to have it. And although the latter sounds appealing, it can only mean one thing: hellooooooo promotion [to a manager’s position].

    Oh, and I also like telling people what they have to do and then doing it myself when it’s not done. As you can see, I used “when” instead of “if”, which usually means I give up telling others and just do it myself from the start.

    - Nicholas — 1/31/2006 @ 1:31 am

  4. Yeah, sometimes they give management training before people become managers… it’s called “grooming” or some such (I’m thinking of baboons picking lice off each other and eating them.) It’s a much more intelligent order of business than the usual throw-someone-into-the-job-who’s-much-better-at-something-else-then-maybe-later-we’ll

    - meep — 1/31/2006 @ 1:45 am

  5. The idea of being forced to take a personality ftest for work creeps me the hell out. But obviously no one looked at it, given that you’re still going to a “how to manage” seminar.

    Are any of these seminars anywhere *nice*, or do you just go to Toronto a lot? (A day without a dig against Toronto is a wasted day.)

    - wolfangel — 1/31/2006 @ 8:04 am

  6. It sounds to me like you’ve made a good impression on YOUR manager. Companies don’t pay for conference admissions and then pay people attend if they don’t plan on keeping them around.

    Have you asked why you were selected (given your present non-manager status)? Maybe they just had some leftover training money that they needed to use up. Maybe they want an evaluation of the worth of the course. Maybe… (The canonical form is: “What do you expect me to bring back from this?”)

    Sometimes “pains in the ass to manage” make the best managers. They’re good at protecting their people from upper-level BS. And they’re valuable to a confident boss because they tell (s)him the truth.

    What the heck, at the least it’s a day or two away from the job, and you might actually learn something. At minimum, it’ll give you one more credential to put on your resumé.

    - Old Grouch — 1/31/2006 @ 11:14 am

  7. Old Grouch - alas, no, I’m afraid that Nicholas was right, and it’s option #1: everyone in my (entry-level) position is being sent to this damned thing. As for pains in the ass making the best managers because they protect their people from upper-level BS: ah, perhaps, but damned if I’m going to put myself in a position to deal with that upper-level BS myself. I’d rather be the one being protected from the upper-level BS, and I am happy to subsidize that protection.

    Also, my manager, who, unlike me, makes a good manager, is well aware that both I and the company would be better served if I were in a different (though non-managerial) position than the one I hold now. He has known this for a long time - since the interview process, as a matter of fact. Man knows what he’s doing.

    Wolfangel - yes, I do get to go to more interesting places. However, I should mention that some of my best friends, for reasons I will never fully understand, live in Toronto. Others live close to Toronto and visit me when I’m there. So, I am happy even for the opportunity to go to Toronto. (Also: Toronto is sunny in the winter, unlike some west coast cities I could name.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 1/31/2006 @ 8:04 pm

  8. I too know people who like Toronto, though, being a Montrealer my whole life, I don’t know *many* of them. You have, however, explained exactly why I do not like some west coast cities.

    - wolfangel — 2/1/2006 @ 10:44 am

  9. I’m with Nicholas (above). OBVIOUSLY if they want you to go to manager training and you are not a manager, it means they (might) want you to *BE* a manager! That is, you are up for a promotion.

    This is not Dilbertesque — this is potentially good for your career. If you didn’t figure that out, are you still management material?
    Good thing you have us commenters to figure this out for you, so you can go on and have a successful career! :-)

    - Different River — 2/2/2006 @ 8:45 am

  10. Ah, if everyone goes at her level, it is not indicative of anything. Other than management has got too much money to play with.

    - meep — 2/2/2006 @ 11:45 am

  11. Okay, management sending me to this thing? Not proof of anything.

    Management coming up to my desk and saying “Remember, Moebius Stripper - senior management will be watching you next week” - kinda ominous, really.

    - Moebius Stripper — 2/3/2006 @ 3:24 pm

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