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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:Are You the Problem, ...

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Or Are You Visiting Cloud Cuckoo Land?

Some time back, Allison Green of Ask a Manager took a question from a reader who had plainly, as she put it, "somehow stumbled into a horde of jackasses." Her answer consists in part of the following excellent coping strategy -- which reminds me a little bit of how I ended up thinking about my daily existence during the times I lived temporarily in three states in the Northeast1:
For whatever remaining period of time you have to stay there, the healthiest thing you can do is to marvel at this weird micro-society you've been temporarily transplanted into. If you were spending a few months in a foreign culture with baffling, unfamiliar customs, you wouldn't take those cultural differences personally, right? And they might even be fascinating to observe? That's what you want here -- along with a very vigorous job search to hasten your exit.
The analogy here is ingenious, because it will help the reader remember that the situation is (a) temporary, and (b) entirely reflects the people around her.

Image by JJ Harrison, via Wikipedia, license.
But the person who wrote in got a very important thing right that it would do well to remember: Get (or take stock of) feedback from other sources. I had long known about the dumb Southerner stereotype, and I had ended up where I was each time at least in part because of my own intellectual merits. So I didn't need others to help me see that lots of the people around me were simply being jerks.

But in an isolated culture, such as a work environment, it can be hard to reach such a perspective. What's correct protocol in an office? What are the norms among people with this background I don't share? Is it worth it to push back in this situation? I can't add to what Green said in reply, but I think the implicit first step -- of calibrating the feedback by remebering or seeking out another perspective -- is worth keeping in mind.

-- CAV

1. I made the "foreign country" connection explicitly for myself when I lived in Boston and found a "Southern Cuisine" sign in my grocery store's international foods section. (back)

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