trainer wants us to “get emotional” with each other, tamale theft, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Our trainer wants us to “get emotional” with each other

I work in education. Specifically, in an urban high school with a high proportion of disadvantaged students with trauma and/or learning disabilities. Work and professional development events can get kind of touchy-feely (emotionally) because so much of what we do is based on forming relationships with our students. Most recently, our school is putting in place a “restorative justice circles” program. The general idea is to regularly do talking “circles” to form community, talk through hard community or life events, and restore relationships after fights or other behavior issues. The circles have a protocol and a talking piece, etc. All teachers are getting trained to run them. They might turn out to be a really good thing for our students or they might be another education fad that will be gone by next year.

At the last meeting, an outside consultant introduced the idea of circles to us and touted their success in other schools. He will be training us on how to conduct the circles. He ended the meeting by saying that our next meeting will consist of practicing the circles and getting emotional with one another. The idea of which being, you have to be willing to share something of yourself in order to expect to form real relationships.

I am not a big emotion sharer at work at the best of times. This month I’ve returned from maternity leave with my first baby to a new staff (last year was terrible, everyone quit but three teachers, a story for another time) and new routines and it’s been especially tough. Is there any way to professionally opt out of something like this, without looking like I am not a team player?

They want all teachers trained to run these circles? That seems like a terrible idea to me — not everyone is suited to doing this kind of work, and I’m sure we can all think of teachers we had who no student would have trusted in that role. However, assuming your leadership isn’t receptive to that argument and they’re committed to going forward with it…

Based on how they’ve framed it so far, I doubt you can opt out of this piece of the training without opting out of the whole thing. Your easiest path might be to participate but come prepared with really bland responses. They can tell you they want you to get emotional (!) but they can’t actually make you do it. Instead, you can share things that you’re not emotionally invested in. Hell, you can make things up! When people are stuck in a work-mandated activity that wants them to share more of themselves than they’re comfortable with, and when they don’t have the capital or standing to get out of it, that’s often the simplest approach … and most of the time it works because no one is paying that much attention to any one person’s contributions.

For the record, I’d love to give you different advice and suggest you fight the whole thing, pointing out how violating it is and how dangerous it is for some people to be vulnerable at work, but it’s an uphill battle and you’re already exhausted. It’s okay to decide to just take the path of least resistance.

2. Tamale theft

A coworker stole my tamales out of the communal freezer at work. Would it be inappropriate to leave a note in the freezer saying “to whomever stole my tamales, your mom is a ho”?

I’m pretty sure you know that would be both misogynistic and rude.

3. How do I stop being excessively loyal to my jobs?

I’m a lawyer and my profession is definitely my personality. I absolutely love my work. The problem is that I get excessively loyal to my workplace, even when it’s toxic or detrimental to my upward mobility and mental health. For example, I formerly worked for a government agency with a supervisor that was demeaning and allowed for zero work/life balance but I hung in for 12 long years because I was so committed to the work.

I’m currently working for a firm that is truly a sinking ship. We’re taking in almost no money and we can’t hire competent staff, invest in new technologies, or even buy supplies on occasion. I fully recognize that I’ve maximized my earning ability here and live in constant fear that the whole thing will collapse. My supervisor is very much the kind of person who takes care of himself financially first and even though he’s promised partnership, I also know how much debt the firm is in and that it would be a terrible investment. However, I love the work and feel this weird internal motivation to see the firm succeed, even if I’ll never reap the benefits. I know that I don’t owe this place anything and that my primary motivator should be taking care of myself. How do I break this curse of obsessive loyalty despite obvious toxicity?

To figure this out, you’re going to need to identify what need this fills in you — and that can mean digging pretty deep psychologically. For example, are you fulfilled by feeling like you’re the one bringing order to chaos or that things would fall apart without you? If so, any chance you filled that role or a similar one in your family when you were growing up? Or, did you grow up in chaos and/or scarcity and so at some level this feels familiar and comfortable to you? Staying on the childhood theme, because that’s what a lot of this stuff is rooted in, did your role models growing up teach you that you don’t leave no matter how bad things are? Or that you don’t deserve good things so you should take whatever you can get?

When there’s a pattern in your life that isn’t serving you but you’re having trouble breaking it, it’s often because it was wired into your brain pretty early, and therapy can really help you unwire it.

4. Going back on an offer of hardware

I’m about to join a small but growing company as a software engineer. My manager asked what sort of computer hardware and setup I’d like, as they would purchase completely new equipment for me (they shared they use XYZ setup). I said I would prefer ABC setup, as I’m used to working on ABC. They responded that “management would prefer you go with XYZ to keep it consistent across the company.”

I don’t mind going with XYZ, but WHY did you ask for my preference in the first place if I didn’t really have a choice? I find this lack of openness about something so simple really weird and a potential red flag, especially for a company that prides itself on having transparency and “no bullsh*t” as core values. What do I make of this?

My guess is that they weren’t asking whether you wanted, for example, Apple or Windows, but rather if there were particular specs your computer needs to have or if you work with a second monitor or so forth.

5. How much enthusiasm should we care about candidates showing for the organization?

I was recently on a selection panel with three other interviewers. We had a discussion about how much enthusiasm a candidate should show for the organization. For the opening “tell us why you applied for this job” question, one interviewer kept downgrading candidates who mentioned the importance of the organization but pivoted fairly quickly to the job itself. I agreed that the one candidate who didn’t mention the organization at all probably should have at least indicated which organization they were applying to work at, but extended monologues about how important the organization was and the great work we do was not necessary. In my opinion, being motivated by the job itself was as legitimate as being motivated by our organization’s mission.

What weight would you give to mission vs. job as a persuasive answer to this opening interview question? Should we even be assessing this question, which has always seemed to me to be a softball to help the candidate relax?

If you do advocacy or many other types of nonprofit work, you do want to see a commitment to the objectives of the organization — but it doesn’t need to be a major focus or passion. In fact, after working in nonprofits for years, I haven’t seen any correlation between visible passion for the mission and effectiveness! I’d much rather see a passion for the job the person will be doing (and even that isn’t that useful unless it’s backed up by skills and a track record of getting things done).

“Tell us why you applied for this job” can give you interesting information, but it’s not something you should be placing a huge amount of weight on except in the rare cases that something really notable comes out in response (like a complete misunderstanding of what the organization does, not an insufficient focus on it).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *