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Filed Under , on August 5th, 2017

That Guy

By Seth Kabala

“A lot of ‘ums’ today. Lots of opportunity to use the squeaker. Just saying.”

Seem like an innocuous comment? If by innocuous you mean I felt like testing the world record for paper cuts and expanding the injury categories murder investigators use when writing their reports, then I agree.

I thought, How dare you insult my ability to squeeze a toy to indicate use of a filler word. I’ve been putting in extra reps at the gym to strengthen my wrists and forearms in preparation for this Toastmasters role. My toy-squeezing and listening skills are at their peak, you uncultured swine! I may have also added a haughty British accent.

I kid, of course. However, we all know THAT GUY. The one who has no trouble speaking his mind, even when it’s inappropriate. Even when you’re on the 15th floor of a building, and it would take little effort to open a window and defenestrate him into an impromptu flying lesson.

Upon reflection, however, I submit to you THAT GUY not only deserves to remain breathing on the 15th floor, but that you should listen to him, or her, or whomever.

In a past job, my manager and I were the classic square peg round hole incompatible relationship. I was intent on placing all the blame with my manager. Easy to do, right? Surely, there’s nothing you could have done better. During the exit interview process I used the phrase “threw me under the bus” multiple times. Was I a better professional for having gotten in a parting shot within the sound-suppressed confines of the HR offices? Yeah, I’m really sticking it to her, giving HR all the dirt that amounts to complete hearsay and that they can never share with her due to confidentiality. … Hmm.

Years have passed. I’m older and, I hope, wiser. I have sharpened my skills, credentials, and perspective, and I admit I was a large part of the problem. I was in the wrong job for my experience level. Working within public service regulatory enforcement differs starkly from working within private sector regulatory compliance. As a regulator, you don’t get to conjure space battles from your mind that play out on the streets of your town, all the while suppressing a demon that hitched a ride in your consciousness and threatens to assume control of your very existence. Admittedly, Stephen King’s version of The Regulators produces a more exciting, albeit sinister, picture.

Dialing down the literary excitement, we find that working within regulatory enforcement is a one-to-many relationship, as in flow-chart diagrams and database design schematics. You know what you know; you know it well; and you are charged with enforcing many parties’ compliance with your rules and regulations. Contrariwise, working within regulatory compliance, you’re responsible for complying with whatever sets of regulations to which you are subject, as determined by the scope of your business activities.

Another way to say this is, you crap in the pool, you clean it up–can you tell I have kids?–i.e., you are responsible for the responsibilities your actions place upon you. Specific to private-sector compliance work, if you crap in one pool, its plumbing is automatically connected to another, slightly larger, pool, and that pool is connected to an even bigger pool, and so on and so forth. One crap, lots of cleanup. Clear? Murky?

(You’re still thinking about the crap in the pool, aren’t you? I promise to upgrade my sophomorism for my next column.)

One-to-many, many-to-many–which one do you think is tougher?

Unfair question? Loaded question? I don’t think so. In terms of sheer work-load, the answer is clear: many-to-many. You have to know and maintain knowledge of a lot of different sets of stuff to be an effective compliance worker. That was my mistake. I came from the one-to-many enforcement sector and thought transferring to the many-to-many compliance sector would be as simple as a costume change between scenes in a play. Nope. I was too young, too green, too lacking in broad knowledge to be effective.

Could my manager have been more understanding? Possibly, but that was out of my control. It wasn’t her job to wait for me to climb the learning curve when I hadn’t even figured out how to put on my shoes; it was my job to select the right shoes, the right tools, and learn how to use everything properly prior to representing my abilities as a fit. My current practice is to erect a barrier in my mind when I start to entertain thoughts of what they could have done differently, how they treated me so unfairly.

Why?

It’s not because I believe I’m always to blame when things go wrong. That type of masochistic thinking is sure to lead you straight to the name-change office where you will fill in DOORMAT in place of your given name, and be stomped accordingly. I’m simply talking about professional responsibility for your own career.

As a knowledge worker, one without the power to compel direct reports’ obedience, I had only the ability to direct my actions, so that’s what I did. I got out of that job and went back to a field that fit with my skills at the time. Today, I continue to place myself in the primary position of responsibility. I don’t stick around throwing pennies in the fountain and hoping that one of them will turn into a flying unicorn and carry me away to affluence and prosperity. Although that would be awesome, it’s irrational, probably demented.

(If anything’s going to swoop in and save me, it will be Batman, not a freaking unicorn. Unicorn. As if.)

Instead of taking offence, look for truth in everything people say to you. You won’t always find it, but you might, and those truths buried in the middle of what appear to be biting insults are the ones that bring the most value.

Am I too nice with the squeaker toy? Probably. Like a lot of us, I err on the side of keeping the peace and speaking in generalities, most of the time failing to address touchy subjects, even if chancing hurting someone’s feelings could change their life.

I want to get away from that. I want to be a truth speaker first, fragile feelings packager second. I want to intentionally weigh the probabilities of imparting benefit/harm from speaking truth versus the benefit/harm from remaining silent and act if the evidence favors the former.

How to do this?

I’ll ask THAT GUY what he thinks.

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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, musician, family man, and juggler of balls--big ones. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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