Thursday, June 19, 2008

Learning To Play Nice

I recently heard about a situation in another lab. To be intentionally vague: They have a Difficult Personality. Said Difficult Personality has been very successful professionally, and has had snits about any number of other people, for no good reasons. They also have a Very Nice Person. Said person has been less successful professionally for no good reasons.

Difficult Personality asked Nice Person a mildly offensive question one day. Nice Person gave a terse response.

DP threatened NP with professional blackmail if NP didn't 'treat DP better'. DP, in fact, threatened to try to ruin NP's employment prospects.

Nice Person, feeling somewhat less nice, filed a harassment complaint.

The thing I'm writing about, though, is my response to the story. When I heard it, my first response was, 'DP thought DP could do WHAT????' And then, second, I started thinking up how, were it me, I would take DP down.

This isn't necessarily the best response: hitting back as hard as you can. My first years in this lab were extremely difficult, and plagued with aggressive people. I suppose I worked up to it rather; I tried pushing back gently, and then harder and harder, until my reflex became to always apply maximum force, to shut the other person down, to have no tolerance for being talked over or condescended to or whatever. (Last week, I actually smacked a postdoc who was trying to take something out of my hands. Gently. I smacked him gently.)

Yet one more thing to unlearn on my way out of town.