Yesterday at work, I had to be mean to a friend. Wait, no, scratch that, it's time for some cognitive reframing. Yesterday at work, I had the opportunity to be assertative.
I'm a nice person. Sometimes too nice. I don't have enemies, and I try to keep it that way. I like being liked. It's more important for me to liked than to be right. That's come up a couple of times in classes: how individuals have the need to the liked, and the need to be right. For certain people, and in certain situations, one need will outweigh the other. Well, about 99% of the time, I'd rather be liked than right.
Last semester my officemate at work would frequently comment, "You're too nice. Be careful, someone might take advantage of that." I am a nice person at work. I go out of my way to be helpful - making sure everyone has what they need, staying a little late or coming in a little early to accomodate people, making compromises from time to time. I tend to be more helpful for those I feel are my friends, and who I know would reciprocate the help. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, my officemate was really stressed and not sleeping much, so I scored a test for him that he could have scored for himself. He's been helpful to me and I consider him a friend and I felt a little sorry for him, so I scored the test and left him a "Merry Christmas" note on it. And I truly don't mind coming in early or staying late here and there, because my boss is really kind and lets us off during student holidays, when technically we're only supposed to get off for faculty/staff holidays. He'd told me last semester that he's fine with doing this, as long as I stay "really committed" to this job. I define "really committed" as being willing to go over and above, to stay late when I need to, and to make sure things get done when they're supposed to get done. I also trust my boss, and I know that he's not going to pull the whole, "But I'm letting you have all of spring break off, why can't you do this for me?" card.
But I have wondered what's being helpful and committed, and what's pushing my boundaries. I do worry that there are people who I interact with who will take advantage of my helpfulness, and expect more from me than I can give.
Last week, one student, we'll call her Helga called me just as I was about to go on my lunch break, "Hey, are you going to be around for another 10 or 15 minutes? I need to get into the clinic and get some things ready for my client at 1." Now, I had planned on going to a computer lab to work on some homework during my hour-long lunch break. But Helga's always been nice to me, and we first met last semester outside of school in a social setting. We're not in the same program, but we have some mutual friends. So, not wanting to say no to a "friend," I agreed to stay a little longer. 45 minutes at the computer lab should be enough. Well, I couldn't get the program I needed to work right, so I just used my time in the computer lab to print some articles.
Perhaps not standing up for myself in that situation was a mistake. Perhaps I opened the door for Helga to expect too much from me. Perhaps Helga, who is a more assertive woman than I am, decided that I was someone who could be easily persuaded.
Yesterday, Helga was in our clinic, testing a student. Our clinic closed at 4pm, I had class at 4:30. 4 o'clock, 4:05, 4:10 passed. Helga was still in the room with her client. I knocked on the door. No answer. I grabbed another student who's in Helga's program and knows more about testing that I do (we'll call him Ivan), and we watched on the tv monitor to see when she was done the subtest she was working on. "This is ridiculous. She's from New York," Ivan explained, "Even if she heard you knock, she's not going to answer is she doesn't want to." As soon as she was done with that subtest, I raced back to her room, knocked, and entered. "The clinic closed at 4pm, are you guys wrapping it up?" "Ohhh, I have one more subtest. 10 more minutes, and I'll be done." "No, it's 4:15. I have class at 4:30." "Ohhh, ok, you can go ahead and leave, and we'll be finished soon." "No, I have to stay until the client leaves. I also have to collect and enter your fee slip." "Oh, ok, let me fill out the fee slip, and then you can enter it while I finish. 10 more minutes. Will you go grab her file please?" I brought her the file, she handed me the fee slip, repeated, "10 more minutes," and closed the door.
What was I doing? Suddenly, this wasn't about being late or on time to class. I don't care, my professor would understand. This was about someone being pushy, not listening to me, not caring about the rules, and me just letting it slide. Me being too nice and just letting someone walk over me. I couldn't let this happen. I couldn't be a doormat. So what did I do?
"Ivan! She won't leave!" Ivan and I raced back to the door. Ivan knocked, and stood silently at my side as I spoke with Helga. "Helga, do you have another appointment scheduled with this client?" "Yes, next week." "Ok, you can do this subtest next week at her next appointment. We need to close this clinic." She looked at me, then looked at Ivan. "Ok, we're finished for today." Then, I swear she gave me the death stare. Talking with another classmate about it later, he explained, "The death stare is just her expression. Helga doesn't have an expression except for the death stare." I forgot to ask him if he'd seen Juno. "Your girlfriend gave me the stink eye." "She's not my girlfriend, and that wasn't the stinkeye. That's just her face." I wonder if Helga's house smells like soup.
Death stare or not, I stood up for myself. I was in the right, she was pushing me, and I stood strong. Maybe one of these days I'll be able to stand up for myself without an Ivan. But for now, every little step counts toward something.