The horrible vice of water: condescending concern in the workplace
While sitting at an intense meeting, I got very thirsty. Everyone had been listening intently to my words as they would be the guiding principle going forward. Well, some people were listening. Some were sewing a loose button and others were deep in REM mode. The fluttering of their eyes lids was quite distracting at times. It must be nice yo dream during the day as well as night.
I had dutifully prepared notes and an awesome excel sheet for finance projections. However, the minutia was too much for both the talking and sleeping heads. Talking heads never want to hear the reality of a situation. They oftentimes just want an office cheerleader to gloss over the practical realities of the situation. When they chime in, it is for a totally irrelevant tangent that might as well be translated out loud as “hey hey hey. I’m not listening. This is what I want and don’t care about its impact on others.” Such incredible disregard for one’s hard work is enough to make one thirsty.
The bitterness, which I tried to hold at bay, started swelling up in the air pockets of my shoulder blades causing fiery looks to emit from my eyes. I had been going on and on for nothing. The truth had no role here. Talking heads have the horrible vice of tangents, disregard, and purposeful deafness. A month or two later, when matters reach a boiling point, that’s when they will chime in with “why didn’t anyone tell me?” What can I do but shake my head? It’s enough to make one thirsty.
When at such meetings, I get an overwhelming thirst. It could be that my overwhelming thirst serves as a way to put out the stomach fires from the impending ulcers or to hear something other than my voice. Either way, I tend to get extremely thirsty in meetings with people who blatantly just don’t care. In particular, I crave my favorite drink which is a coke zero. And no, no one is paying me to say that.
After finishing my monologue at this particularly painful meeting, I headed over to the small fridge looking for my coke zero reserve. There was none. I coughed out a sigh, ruffled through my bag, and came up empty on the candy front as well. I have been trying to cut back on sugars, as of late, rather successfully. However, buffoonish meetings make me crave some sweets or some popcorn as if I were at a theatre.
As I came up empty on all my vice fronts, there came the inevitable “concerned” response of those who seriously couldn’t have cared less a few minutes back. One such formerly disinterested meeting participant noted”there are water bottles. Drink some water. Its good for you anyway.” I politely declined. I normally do not care for water. Then in circumstances such as these I really don’t care for water. In this instance, the water offer was a way to end the conversation they had not cared for to begin with and was also a way to feign superiority and note how wayward I was. After I politely declined the offer of water, the group went on to shake their heads to show that I was being foolish and that they were all smart because they were drinking water. Interestingly, I was the most awake, present and coherent of the assembled group. I hated looking at those water bottles as they only served to remind me that at times a show of concern is a power play.
Psychologically showing concern is a way of forming an emotional bond but it can also serve to reinforce certain hierarchical status levels. See, if one person is showing concern and offering a solution, it implies the other is in need of help. In family or other personal relationships that can indeed be comforting. I recall once a fellow PhD student, who was a bit arrogant in my point of view, got hit by a car while biking. It was a hit and run, which unbelievably happened a lot to bicyclists in berkeley. So much for peace, love and harmony in California. Anyway, this hit and run victim was getting about town and the hallowed psychology hallways via crutches. I held open the door for her at one point and I wished her well. I then overheard her tell a friend:
“So tired of people pitying me. People that never talk to me are showing me all this fake concern. It’s like they are trying to be better than me now that I am on crutches. I don’t need pity.”
Whoa! However, she did have a bit of a valid point. I am not being a curmudgeon, I swear and I am not protesting too much.
I recall a time at a celebratory workgroup outing when we were having a blast and someone turned to me with all sense of earnestness, placing his hand on my arm, to say “oh you really should drink some water. It’s good for you.” Then he went on for about five minutes on how to be healthy and take care of oneself. Bah humbug! Who wants a lecture when out celebrating? Who wants a lecture from someone who barely focuses on what one says the majority of the time? I can do without the water pushers! In these instances, a purposefully expressed earnest regard for one’s health was rather condescending. If you stop to think for a few seconds, you too will be able to pinpoint a past moment of expressed fake concern.
There are numerous instances of hollow communications in the workplace such as “I know how you feel” or “I’ve been there” or “this isn’t easy for me either.” Let us not now add food or water pushing to the list of fake interactions and hollow communications.
P.S. I do believe in drinking water, especially after a few cocktails 🙂