I get in trouble a lot. Mostly for my big mouth. Really, I’m too old for raising my hand in a meeting and bringing up the objection, the thing the boss doesn’t want to hear. I hear over and over again, “why can’t you just go along to get along?” “No one likes the lightening rod.” “You don’t always have to take responsibility for looking after other people, particularly when they won’t be looking after you.”
An example. We had a project manager that was 6 foot plus some. A hefty guy all the way around. In conversations, he’d crowd people’s personal space – he was completely oblivious to people backing away from him. I once saw him back a client – a diminutive woman of perhaps 5’2″ – into a wall, all while gesturing expansively. So I saw him do this to one of my teammates, another small woman, on a day when the client wasn’t around. So I pointed it out to him. I made him look at the height differential between himself and my colleague, I measured the space between them and pointed out that social norms provided for about 18 inches of professional distance between colleagues and demonstrated that he’d more than halved that space.
For as long as the exchange was going on, everybody (including me) was uncomfortable.
Note: we’d also been talking about this very issue when he walked up to the conversation and interjected himself.
When it was over, the 4’11” colleague that he’d been towering over chastised me for rocking the boat. But he was more aware after that and didn’t chase the client around the room anymore.
This is the stuff I get in trouble over.
Today, however, today I have new reason to be unapologetic. It’s practice.
Over at The Daily Headache, this post on Distributed Responsibility. Basically, when a crowd sees a terrible act going on, a single person is less likely to stand up and do something about it because no one person takes responsibility when there are a bunch of people around to disperse the sense of ownership. Most of us believe that if we can just be quiet and escape notice that we’ll be okay.
Which history more or less backs up. Political dissidents get disappeared. There are plenty of good reasons to keep your head down and your blinders on. It’s good for survival. It’s human nature.
So I’m alright with having these small opportunities to practice getting uncomfortable. Here’s hoping that, if I’m ever in a situation where it really matters, I’ll have the chutzpah to speak up.