I've been navigating through a reorganization at work. There's been a lot of uncertainty, rumors, and mixed signals. In particular, one guy that I supervise has made it clear that he doesn't want to work for me directly. He doesn't care for my style, my approach, my personality, etc. I think he's afraid of me or intimidated by me. In any case, he wants to work for another guy.
The guy he wants to work for doesn't do very much. I am currently without any technical support, and continue to have lots of administrative work to get done. Frankly, I not only need a senior support person more, it's a little silly that I'm the leader of this project and I have to put up with a string of low-level people, temps, summer students, part-timers, etc.
However, the last thing I need is to have my support person be sullen and resentful. I've tried to be as accommodating, reasonable and personally supportive as I can, but sometimes we are called on to do things that aren't our first choice.
Today, he initiated a conversation where he said how unhappy he was about the uncertainties of this coming reorg. He hinted that he might go elsewhere if he didn't get the job assignment he wanted.
I told him that uncertainty is hard on everyone, that I'd been part of negotiations to sort out work assignments that would make the maximum number of people maximally happy and/or satisfied. I told him that the plan we'd worked out was a good one, but that it might get thrown out the window by someone farther up the chain, in which case we would either take it and make do, or leave to find work elsewhere.
At some point in the conversation, he got a surprised look and said, "In all the times we've had this conversation, I've always tried to be up front about telling you what I want. I guess it never really occurred to me that you are kind of in the same boat with all this uncertainty. I never really thought to ask you what *you* want."
So, I told him. I told him in plain language exactly what I was looking for in a support person, both in skill set and temperament, and why I thought he'd be good for the job. I also made it clear that I understood he didn't want to work for me. If it would result in him turning sullen and dour, then our working relationship would degenerate until it would be worse that useless for both of us.
The expression of amazement and astonishment on his face was remarkable. All along, through everything, he's seen me as... what? A robot? A blue box on a management chart? A mannequin in the corner office? Certainly not as a person. It was clearly a new paradigm for him to consider that I might have some hopes and desires, some wants and needs that would either be fulfilled or dashed, depending on how things turn out.
He had been concerned solely with his own happiness. I'm not going to believe that his is now concerned with *my* happiness, but I think that he is now at least *aware* of my happiness, or lack thereof.
That's called empathy, or the beginnings of it.
Something to think about as I go for a walk over lunchtime, enjoying the spring-like weather.