Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Combining the Personal with the Professional

I have spent way too much time in my life working. Technically, my full-time job is being a student, even though I am paying for my education instead of being paid. This is an interesting job because we tend to be professional with our professors, but we tend to be personal with our “co-workers,” our classmates. I could go on forever about this lifelong job I’ve embraced, but in this blog I’m going to talk about my more official jobs—the ones I have been paid to do. Not counting my job as an unpaid and under-appreciated babysitter to my younger siblings, I starting working at the age of 14. I started out working as a cashier at Burger King, then I moved on to become a hostess at On the Border, and finally I ended up as a hostess at the Bridgetown Millhouse, where I have been working for the past two years.

On more than one occasion, my job as a hostess at the Bridgetown Millhouse Inn has led me to give criticism to my fellow hostesses. One girl in particular—I’ll call her Sonya for the sake of convenience, even though that’s not her name—that I worked with often made many mistakes, almost every night. These mistakes can include miscalculating or misprinting checks, seating guests at the wrong tables, giving the cooks and servers the wrong messages, etc. Although many of my co-workers have brought these issues up with our manager, Sonya is just so polite and sweet to our guests that our manager never wanted to fire her. Meanwhile, I am left behind to try to correct her mistakes. I use certain communication strategies based on a consideration of her listening style when I give her criticism. I realized she is a people-oriented listener because with every new encounter, Sonya “seek[s] common interests with the speaker and [is] highly responsive…[she is] interested in the speaker’s feelings and emotions ” (Campbell Eichhorn 136). Additionally, I thought about how she often falls into common listening misbehaviors: she monopolizes conversations because her favorite thing to talk about is her life and the people in her life to anyone who will listen. Also, she partakes in a form of ambushing—while she does not, like most ambushers, “listen for information that they can use to attack the speaker,” she is, in fact, guilty of the next aspect of ambushing: “often ambushers interrupt the speaker. They do not allow the speaker to complete his thought and jump to conclusions. Ambushers make assumptions and get ahead of the speaker by finishing his sentences” (Campbell Eichhorn 141), and Sonya definitely looks for opportunities to interrupt the speaker, vaguely connecting whatever the speaker was saying to a story about herself or her friend, etc. Her ultimate aim in every conversation seems to be just to start talking about people she knows. With all of this in mind, I keep my criticism of her brief so she cannot seize control of the conversation while I am trying to teach her something; also, I use person-friendly language with her so as to not hurt her feelings and to appeal to her people-oriented sensitivity. She receives all of the criticism well enough, technically; she usually provides feedback, listens attentively (ears, self, eyes and heart, as the Chinese character demonstrates), and walks away comprehending what I’ve criticized and what I recommend her to do better in. Still, it does not always sink in—either that, or Sonya is a creature of habit, and does not know how to break a bad one easily.

I get along fine with my co-workers. My mother is a server in this restaurant, and our relationship is great. Another server is my friend Nick, who got me and my mom our jobs there. Since I’ve been at school, our relationship has boiled down to just talking at work; sometimes this is a bit awkward because it’s hard to pick up where we left off if we haven’t seen each other in months, and often we end up just small-talking. All of the other servers I communicate easily with, because I relate to each of them in one aspect or another. As for my supervisor, the manager, I get along well with him, too: when we’re not busy working, we talk about current global issues (he’s European and speaks six languages), my studies, literature, or relationship issues. In fact, he has even taken my mom and me out for brunches and joined us for family barbecues. Consequently, my manager has gotten to know us well both at work and outside of work, so he trusts both of us with any and every task we feel capable of handling.

The Leader-Member Exchange theory states that the relationship between superiors and subordinates will not be the same for every worker. This is true especially in my workplace, because individual servers and hostesses have different relationships with the manager and the owners. I have a very good relationship with my superiors and can often get away with things that others might not be able to. I can use this theory to improve my role on the job by rectifying the system. In other words, I should try to make sure my fellow subordinates are getting treated as well as I am, rather than unfairly perpetuating favoritism. My satisfaction and overall comfort—even my self-esteem and sense of affiliation, as Maslow points out—might increase if I make the work environment better for everyone. My personal life would also reap the benefits of this because I would feel more productive and more aware of my role as a good employee at my part-time job, which would lead to my feeling better about my capabilities as a worker in general.

As for the EQ test, my score was 132: “much higher than average.” The questions were straightforward, and I feel that my results were accurate because I am very much a friendly, curious, easily captivated and passionate person. The text under my score stated, “You are able to express your feelings clearly in appropriate situations…You deal effectively with stress, interact with others and communicate adequately…You are able to motivate yourself, find the energy and the strength necessary to complete what you need to do to reach your goals. You are one of the resilient people who bounce back after major drawbacks, survive hardship without bitterness, and still manage to empathize with others. These skills will certainly bring you long-term benefits such as stronger relationships, better health and personal happiness.” My score directly relates to my ability to give and take criticism because it shows how adaptable and people-centered I am. I don’t take criticism personally; maybe if I were more egotistical, or less adaptable, then I would take criticism to heart. As I am now, I still know I have a lot to learn, so I appreciate constructive criticism. Also, I tend to see the best in everybody, and I couldn’t hold a grudge to save my life.

What’s interesting is despite everything I just said, when asked to fill in the blank, when I am criticized I feel ____, the first word that came to my mind was disappointed. All the words I’ve used up until this point have been positive, but I must admit that my initial response to criticism is none of those things. Although I do get over criticism more quickly than most people I know, that is just the ultimate outcome—the initial outcome when I receive criticism is I feel disappointed. I hold myself to high standards and put my whole heart into everything I do, so whenever I do something poorly, make mistakes, and get criticized, I do feel bad for a little while. However, if I didn’t, that would mean that I don’t care too much about doing my best, which of course is not true; so, as always, there's a flip side to everything.

It took me awhile to come up with a poem, book, or song to relate to this passage, but I finally thought of one. "Taxman," written by George Harrison and performed by the Beatles, is a brilliant, wry and funny perspective on the reality of living, working and getting your hard-earned money taken away by government taxes. Here's a link to listening to the song for free: Taxman.

1 comment:

Josh Chave said...

I was really impressed with the way you thought about how to interact with Sonya (good choice of name by the way). I think that tailoring criticism to a person is the best way to get through to them.
I know that I am sometimes guilty of monopolizing a conversation, it can be a very hard habit to break. One way that I have worked on it is by letting people know I want to stop, so they remind whenever I start doing it. It gets very frustrating at times, because I just want to get my point across. It is about committing to break the habit. If she doesn’t want to be a better listener, there is little you can do for her.
I was also interested in the way you talked about your boss. We just talked today about voluntary and involuntary relationships. Your relationship with him is both. I just thought it was nice how it tied in to everything.
I also know exactly what you mean about feeling disappointed, that is sometimes my first reaction as well.
Thanks for posting!