Yesterday I was in the English bookshop in Bern, and I was talking to the store clerk about a book I wanted but that they didn't appear to have in the shop. As I was standing at the counter, a woman came up behind me with her husband and wormed her way around the tight space between myself, an elaborate book display, and the counter.
She wanted to put her books on the counter while I was still talking to the sales associate and in the process I was jostled to the side.
The sales associate looked uncomfortably at the books on the counter then at me and registered the passive-aggressive message of the women who was continuing to urgently slide them forward: she was in a hurry and it was more important that she be helped then my question be answered.
In a fit of articulateness I asked her what she was doing.
"We're late for an appointment but I have to buy these books."
"Well, hold on a second because she's helping me right now."
Then I turned back to the associate with every intention of making up some book titles and sending her on a wild goose chase through cyber-book land just to be a bitch. But then that arrogant disregard for my fellow man would put me on the same level as the woman beside me, and I'm really not cool with going down in history as a d-bag.
Instead I want to be known for my diplomacy: like the time I told my little friend in kindergarten that I was sick of playing with her and would be leaving to swing on the swings alone. SO DON'T EVEN FOLLOW ME RIGHT NOW.
There was a period in my life (to and including the first year of university), and paradoxically despite my shyness, when I was quite liberal with making it known that if someone pissed me off, they pissed me off. And I had no problem telling them this to their face, because isn't that way you are supposed to deal with conflict?
Rather than scuttle around people's back like a spineless asswipe, you are supposed to be direct if you are having an issue with them?
I mean when you get to the tall-rise of professional superstardom (managing a Wendy's at age 19. Whatever! Really not a big deal! Just be cool about it!), apparently you make some enemies along the way. And how do you make these enemies? Well, by going about your business, doing a good job, have a good rapport with staff, and...having the boss applaud you in front of everyone that you are a 'really great employee'.
To this day I am still proud of the job I did there, because god damn I did do a good job. And if you do a good job you deserve to be recognized. But nothing puts you between the crosshairs of your co-worker's gun of 'let's take down that bitch' like being accoladed by the boss. It brings to the surface every single one of their jealous insecurities, and they have no choice but to unload all those insecurities by gossiping about you. Behind your back. All. The. Time.
At first I tried to be direct about the gossip, and approach the gossipers face-to-face because there's really nothing worse then kids coming into work and telling you all about what so-and-so said about you last night at the party they wouldn't invite you to.
"She said you're a controlling bitch who tries too hard."
I didn't know it was possible to try too hard at a job. Oh man, I'm SUCH a looser.
Confronting people didn't go well, and eventually the constant criticism from a handful of my fellow managers broke me, and I left that place in a blaze of passive-aggressive glory by writing a spiteful note in the log book, which I regret to this day. I should of toilet-papered the bathroom instead.
After that job, I immediately moved into another job where one co-worker was quite convinced She Was The Boss of Me. And if you confronted her about the shitty-not-my-job-jobs she wanted me to do, well she reacted the only way she knew how: by over-reacting, then sitting around the lunch room and whispering that I didn't know my place.
I CAN HEAR YOU.
Two consecutive jobs in a row where you have unintentionally made enemies by strictly doing your job really stamps on your self-esteem, and eventually after too much shit I decided it was easier to lay low then defend myself. Because being upfront about situations seemed to make things worse.
It took me along time to realize that these people were actually threatened by me. And I won't be a Southern (Canadian) Bell and pretend, 'Gosh ya'll, I don't know why?' I do know why. It's because every day I showed up, no matter the job, and gave it 110% and my getting ahead made other people feel bad about themselves.
I'm really not going to say, "Sorry I made you feel bad about yourself. Want to be besties?' It's not my fault you don't have the guts to make your own life a success.
The person I will apologize to is myself, because during those three years I convinced myself it was better to loose my voice. I really believed that it was better to have no opinion so that people won't talk behind your back, then to be upfront about poisonous situations.
But as of yesterday, well Internet, when someone tries to edge you out, I won't fucking take it anymore.
In a country where I don't speak the language, Switzerland has ironically helped me find my voice.
When I had turned back to the sales-associate at the bookstore counter, the pushy woman beside me refused to give up.
"I need to pay for these, we're late."
I took a deep breath and felt my body get a bit shaky as it anticipated what I was going to say before my brain did. With measured intention of not flying off the handle, I replied:
"It's not my problem you didn't manage your time properly. If you'd politely asked in the first place to pay, I would have said yes. But I don't have to accommodate people with bad manners."
As soon as I said those words, I felt quite peaceful and turned around to finish my transaction. I didn't get that adrenaline rush I thought I would get. In fact, after I left the store I didn't even think twice on the situation for the rest of the day. It's probably because that was the first time in years I said my peace, which meant I didn't spend the rest of the day mentally trashing my dressing room by throwing vases through mirrors and cursing out every conceivable come-back I should have said.
Yeah sure I treated her like a two year-old who needs to learn she's not the most important person in the world, but still, I said what I needed to say when it needed to be said.
Hater's gonna be hatin', Internet. Doesn't mean you need to let yourself feel small about it. Say what you need to say when it needs to be said. Just don't be an emotional wreck about it, because then no one hears you anyhow.