I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
That's a good question, because villians are usually very good at hiding themselves. Indeed, people have become very proficient at hiding their flaws and blaming their mistakes on others through a variety of what psychologists call "defense mechanisms." They started in the Garden of Eden when Adam said "this woman you gave me made me do it" and it's been downhill ever since that first shifting of blame. The problem is, there are only a limited number of ways to make this work and while you can mix it up, it all boils down to a few basic things.
First is shifting the blame, as we saw above. People refuse responsibility for their actions and claim "it's not my fault! It's somebody elses fault!" I've heard this is a common reason why, as the joke goes, there are no guilty people in jail. All victims of unfortunate circumstances caused by others - or so their lawyers claim. That's a drastic example, of course, as it doesn't take a criminal that winds out being interviewed on Dateline to use this one. I've heard countless variations from "so and so said they'd take care of it and I trusted them!" to "oh, they're trying to help. I'm sure there's a reason they took my ten thousand dollars and disappeared. They must be looking so hard and too busy to keep in touch!" to "well, I trusted YOU to make the decision and you made a bad one!" Sadly, I have known some people that live their entire lives in a state of refusing responsibility and shifting blame. They don't want to deal with the consequences of their actions and decisions, so they do nothing unless someone else tells them to. It's "oh, I had such a great idea!" if it succeeds and (more likely) "woe is me, I never get a break" if it doesn't or worse, if they get taken advantage of. Which happens often because predators can sniff out emotionally weak people that don't want to take control of their lives and usually prey on that until they suck them dry. It's really a very dangerous defense mechanism.
Another one is projection. This is when you project what you think/feel/do on someone else because you don't want to admit that you or somebody close to you does it. I'm often prey to this one. Probably because if people try to shift the blame to me I'll outright say "it's not my fault if you made an active decision not to think for yourself." (Folks, I have done this.) This is usually a sneaky one because they aren't confrontational about it - they want to be sly because they don't want to tip you off. For example, one time I found out that someone I knew hadn't told me about something big that happened in their life. When I asked why she didn't tell me, she said "oh, I didn't want people to gossip." I replied "do you think I'm a gossip?" She set her face and said "I don't want people talking. Everybody doesn't need to know everything." I knew right away what happened. She hadn't been ready for her "secret" to be told and had only told a couple of people she had been friends with for a long time. The fact that I found out meant one of them had been gossiping, and she didn't want to admit it, so she tried to shift the blame to me. And let me tell you, she didn't speak to me for about two months when I pointed out that one of her confidants were the ones that spilled it to me. She just didn't want to believe a good friend would betray her trust, so she tried to pretend like it was someone else (anyone else!) by accusing the people that found out second hand of being gossips (I found out later that she'd had the same reaction to several other people). The trick may have protected her from feeling betrayed, but it didn't do much to win her more friends or influence people in a positive way.
A third way villians shift blame is dissociation. In a nutshell, this refers to what we commonly call "busybodies" and "troublemakers." These are people that are addicted to drama and work behind the scenes to stir up trouble and then disappear when it all blows up, playing the meek, weak person saying "oh my, all I want is peace!" That is an act, because people given to dissociation are usually dangerous. Remember that Satan is another one that only wants peace - as long as it's his kind, and these people fall in that same category. They will stop at nothing to get what they want and see other people as nothing but tools to torque the world to their will. Their purposes for stirring up trouble are varied - perhaps so they can come in and "save the day" so they can be hailed as a hero, or perhaps to turn people against one another to keep them out to keep lies from being exposed, or maybe because they just have a habit of making bad decisions and they lie and try to turn people against one another to hide their mistakes. Folks, if you haven't crossed paths with one of these then you're destined to someday because it's one we ALL struggle with at one time or another. The reason is because people prone to dissociation are no respecters of persons - remember, people are tools to them - so they will try to prey on anybody.
These types are extremely frustrating because they can wiggle out of situations and disappear from blame with the skill of a mage. There are only two ways to deal with these types: Avoidance, or catching them red handed. You literally have to stay the hell out of their way or catch them in the middle of a trap of their own making. Let me tell you, I have managed to do this once or twice (in 36 years, which tells you how difficult it is) and it's never pretty. When you catch them you win, but it's at a price because these take casualties. Like the devil, they aren't going down alone and they will take everybody they can get a claw in down with then. The problem is that there are some people you can't avoid or cut from your life, so if you have the misfortune of finding a dissociative type in your inner circle then catching them is the only solution. The good news is that deception doesn't last forever and truth does eventually show itself, so they will be exposed eventually and you better be alert and ready to act at just the right moment. The bad news, as I said, is that it's gonna hurt like hell because they'll make sure it does. But it's a price worth paying.
These are just a a few of the defense mechanisms that people use to shift blame, and one that we usually see in villians both in the real world and in fiction. In fact, knowing this can make reading very interesting, because you can look for these mechanisms at work in the books or stories you're reading and use it as a way to discern who the real bad guy is. And it works in real life too, of course.
In my next entry I'll discuss your own dark side. Because folks, we all have one whether we want to admit it or not. And knowing it can be interesting.
That's all for today. Take care and have a good week.
If you work, you serve others. This is a simple fact of life. The issue is, who are you serving? Customer bases vary widely but there are some things that are universal no matter who you're working with, be it the utility company or a government agency. Here are a few tips to make those calls easier so you get the best (and fastest) customer service possible:
1. Check the website. Everybody has a website now - heck, even my PARROTS have a website, so it stands to reason that companies do too. These websites are updated frequently by experts and usually contain information that customers inquire about most. The purpose of the website is not only to provide services to the public, but to answer some of the most frequently asked questions and to provide guidance on issues that they receive the most calls and e-mails about. Checking the website might save you a call, or at least lead you in a direction where you can fine-tune your inquiries to get more specific information quickly and easily.
2. Plan your call carefully and be mindful of the schedule. If there's a major deadline within the next week, I can assure you that the call volume is high and you will be more likely to be placed on hold or wind out leaving a message that may not be returned for a while. Try to avoid deadline times by planning ahead or, if it can wait, calling a couple of days after the deadline passes. (You can usually find out if you're approaching a deadline time by following Suggestion #1). Another time to avoid are days immediately before or after a major holiday. Staffing is usually low before the holiday (when everybody wants to use those precious vacation days), and call volume is typically extremely high after a holiday (when everybody goes back to work). And Friday afternoons are usually bad too, because everybody wants a Friday off, so if there's leave to burn (in terms of "use it or lose it" days or comp time) that's usually when staff cashes in. The trick is that you want to call when there's maximum staffing, but not extremely high call volume - this increases your chances of getting a human being with correct answers quickly and easily.
3. Read the instructions all the way through. I understand that it's a knee jerk reaction to pick up the telephone once you hit a sentence you don't understand. Don't do it. Keep reading because the answer might be further down the page. I can't count the number of "oh yea, right there it is, I just quit reading" comments I've heard over the years.
4. NEVER pick up the telephone when you're panicked or heightened emotional state unless it's a medical emergency and you're calling 911. I kid you not - I've answered the telephone to full blown hyperventelation many times, and those are awkward calls. I have a psychology degree, but most people in administrative jobs studied areas like business management or accounting and they may not have been trained to "talk you off a cliff." Practice what I call the 10-10-10 rule: Take 10 slow breaths, count to 10 slowly, and wait 10 minutes. Then you'll be able to frame your question in a way that gets results and answers quickly and calmly.
5. Collect your questions and focus on the person you're talking to as they answer. As you puruse the website and read the instructions, make a list of your questions. Don't interrupt the person in the middle of a sentence with a follow up question before they finish answering the last question, or be one of those people that says "oh! One last question!" ten times. Because in those situations you usually wind out asking the same thing 3 times because you were so busy formulating new questions that you didn't hear the answer to the one you were asking.
6. Limit the hypothetical questions. If you say "what if I ..." or "suppose I were to ..." more than twice, then we suspect that you're looking for ways to duck the red tape (and we will look for ways to trap you into admitting it). Be straightforward and give us the facts, please.
7. Rephrasing the question 7 ways won't change the answer. And "call shopping" (where you realize it's a rotating line and keep calling to work your way through the staff to get the answer you want) is a trick we pick up on around the third call. Everybody in that department has been trained the same way and they'll give you the same answer. No matter how many times you call or how many ways you try to rephrase it.
8. Be respectful. What I mean is that if the person says "I don't know but I can send you to somebody that does know," immediately cease and desist from asking any more questions until you're routed to the right person. Because your "wait a minute, let me ask you this while I have you ..." questions will lead to more "I don't knows" and a delay in getting the information you need while you bark up the wrong tree. Nobody knows everything and despite the current push to "cross train," there are people that know some things better than others. They're trying to help you by sending you to the most knowledgeable person to answer your question. Let them do it.
9. Be patient. Not every question has an immediate answer and they may have to research what you're asking about. So don't wait until the last minute. Plan ahead.
10. Don't lie. I know this sounds silly, but people do call and outright lie about things, only to be embarassed when we use that annoying database at the computer we're sitting behind and catch them in it. That can lead to serious trouble in some situations, so please, no matter how embarassing or hurtful it is to your pride, just tell the truth. We will act with discresion and will do our best to help you - but don't say you mailed the check and it cleared last week when it's lying on the table in front of you. Because they'll look it up, see it didn't arrive, and the next question will be for you to send them a copy of the cancelled check to prove it. Awkward!
A lot of getting good customer service is to use discernment and good, old fashioned common sense in dealing with companies. Be courteous, professional, respectful and plan appropriately and you'll get the fastest and best customer service available. And really, these are good rules to apply to all of your relationships.
That's all for today.
Hi folks, it's me today. No, I'm not taking creative license by handing over my blog to my writing characters or my birds, and it's not part of the blog series. Today it's me here with real life, which is the stuff that blogs are made for. And today, I have a life lesson for you.
Did you know that truth always reveals itself? It seems that a lot of people don't. But some truths that have been carefully hidden for 3 years came flying out today. Yep, the masks fell away and people saw the nasty, ugly reality, complete with crumbs, dust bunnies, dead bugs and all.
The short version of this story is that I was asked some questions about the last place I was at today - detailed questions, complete with names and all. And I told the truth, which was unflattering to some people in my past. Oh well. They were warned. That's what happens when you try to brainwash people and the one thorn you could never quite "get fixed" gets away.
Yes, that's right. I said "brainwashed." It was a place where that was how the entire culture was defined. Everybody had their place and by golly, you stayed there "or else." The problem with that kind of mentality is that you always run across those strong, independent types that refuse to be told what to think. I was one of them and now, I see that it was the root of all my problems there. It wasn't personality conflicts, or fear over what wasn't understood - it was that they couldn't control me, plain and simple. I just wouldn't "settle down" and tame my renegade spirit. I rocked too many boats.
Well, they're too cool to care, so none of this should be of any importance to them. And I'm gone, so it's the past and really of little consequence to me. I tell you this story to make a point. There are always people around that will try to brainwash you. Always people that are arrogant enough to believe that they can control you - and that you should listen to them. I say bah. That's just crap. I hope I gave those people hell with my independent spirit while I was there . And for anybody else in my life that has the audacity to try similar tricks on me, I say this story demonstrates one very important thing you better take note of: I have a foot, and I know how to put it squarely up your rear if you DARE to try to brainwash me. This isn't just throwning down the gauntlet. This is the Hammer of Thor coming right at you and it's in your face.
I have my own brain, thank you very much, and I know how to use it.If you don't like it, you can take your happy butt right out the same door you used to come into my life, because there's no place for you here. I've broken free of those leashes they tried to slap on me and I have no use for that kind of shallow mentality in my life. God removed me from it, and I thank Him every day for that deliverance!
Yes, I'm a huge fan of fiction, but I also have a foot in reality. I realize there's no such things as wizards, elves, hobbits, Jedi, Sith Lords, demi-gods, superhereos, or even gecos and ducks that sell insurance. The truth is that in reality, it's no huge secret to how to impress me. I'm no respecter of persons. Titles don't impress me. Positions don't intimidate me. Power doesn't dazzle me. There's one way to get my admiration and respect and everybody on Earth has an equal chance at it.
You have to be a decent human being. That's it. Plain and simple. Honesty and integrity will get you everywhere. Anything else is smoke and mirrors, and I don't like magic tricks.
The truth is that most people are smarter than you give them credit for being, but few have the courage to admit to what they truly think and stand up for integrity. People have a inherent sense of when they're being deceived and they always resent it, whether they act on it or not. Beware the ones that don't comply with conformity. They're the sandpaper that rub on the rough edges of arrogance. They're people like me. And there are more of them than you think. Those brainwashed worlds are, in reality, very small. The real world is much bigger.
That's my soapbox speech for today. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time ...
I hate that song "When Peace Flows Like a River." It's a filthy lie.
I suppose that statement deserves an explanation, so here it is: I went to a funeral for a friend yesterday that died from cancer. It's the third friend I've lost to cancer in 18 months. To say I hope I never see the face of this ugly beast again would be an understatement.
Anyway, they seem to love this hymn at funerals. There's just one problem: No, it's not well with my soul. I don't understand why three people I know had to suffer like this. They were good people. They wanted to live. It seems so unfair that their lives were cut short when I look around and see people that don't appreciate a thing - or that play hard and fast, like they don't care about putting themselves or others in danger - and they keep going on and on.
I hate that hymn because it's arrogant and it's a lie. Are you ok with anything that happens? Life can whollop you and it's just "well, praise God and glory be." No folks, not in the real world. Real people get frustrated. Real people get angry. Real people are confused and hurt and don't understand. I'll admit that I'm a real person and my soul's got problems. I don't get it. In fact, there's a lot I don't get.
Another reason I don't like this song is because it implies that faith means never questioning anything - just blind acceptance. You can reason out everything, even if the reason is simply "it's God's will." While that is true, and I suppose it all does boil down to that, it's been my experience that human beings aren't that simplistic. We do try to understand. We do ask questions. We do get frustrated and angry in our confusion and lack of understanding. It is through these struggles that we find what faith really is: Not a lack of questions, but an acceptance that we won't have most of the answers. That in the grand scheme of things it does make sense, and being ok with the fact that only God may know how it fits into that scheme. And most importantly, to realize that it's ok to not have the answers or to work through whatever processes we need to work through to get to this acceptance.
That's where I'm at. My soul does hurt, and it's confused. I know all three of them are at peace now, and that there's a greater plan that I won't see this side of Heaven. Intellecutally, it's there. Emotionally, I'm still on the journey to that point. I miss them and those absences do hurt. It's hard to remember that they won't walk through that door at church Sunday morning any more, that they won't be at that committee function or in Sunday School or passing by at functions with their cheerful smiles. The reality that they're gone and never coming back is still stinging. And I don't think there's a thing wrong with that sting. It means I feel. It means I'm still human. It means I'm still alive.
So no, it's not well with my soul, and I'm ok with admitting that. My soul is hurt and it needs to heal. I know the truth and accept it, but I'm just going to have to work through that process to get these pesky emotions at that same level. And I don't think I'm alone. Many others are on that same journey. I have plenty of company on this road. My comfort is that tomorrow is a new day. New mercies every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.
Now that's one I can live with.
That's all today. Happy Friday to you tomorrow.