Oh dear, oh dear.
I had my annual review today -- well, it's only annual for the first three years, and then one is reviewed again in one's sixth year, and then after that it's only every six years, so in point of fact this is the last "annual" review that I'll have at FGS -- and it should have been fabulous. Let's face it, I'm great at my job, and the administration loves me. What could go wrong?
And yet I spent almost the entire hour in tears. So it's been an embarrassing and draining afternoon. Four hours later, I'm still crying about it off and on.
Here's the problem: As we were heading into the meeting, my department chair gave me and the Academic Dean her assessment of my work this year, most of which was highly complimentary (although sloppily written -- she'd obviously written it quickly and hadn't reread it, because there were all sorts of sloppy repetitions). And then, at the end, there was this concluding paragraph:
I've noticed that with very brilliant, highly competent people, there is often room for improvement in listening to and receiving the opinions of others, and WN is no exception. I know, however, that WN has been aware of this issue and has taken steps toward improvement in all of her "small-group" projects. I applaud this effort and feel fortunate to work with such a sharp, energetic, experienced, witty and thoughtful educator.
So I read this literally two minutes before the meeting -- which wouldn't be a terrible thing in other circumstances, since that's the FGS way of evaluation meetings, which are clearly of lower stakes than a tenure meeting, although the latter is always what's in the back of my mind at these meetings -- and so I had no chance to process it before we were talking.
And not that I don't appreciate the compliments, but of course I immediately fixated on the criticism that they accompanied. It is obviously true that I have room for improvement in listening to and receiving the opinions of others ... as do most of us, I'd say, but I'll own that as a real arena in which I could grow. But I couldn't think of any conflicts this year in which someone might think I hadn't listened to others, so I wasn't sure what was behind the comment. As we were starting the meeting, I kept saying to myself, "Be calm, WN, be calm. Just listen to what she has to say" -- because of course the trap in being charged with not being good at listening to others is that one then has to appear all open and accepting in hearing that charge or it seems to validate the original accusation.
Okay, and maybe "accusation" is too strong a word, but I did want to hear what was behind the chair's comment, so at one point when it seemed apropos, I asked about it -- still being calm, mind you!
"Ah," she said, "I wondered about whether to include this. The thing is, several of your colleagues in the department have come to me to express concern about how bossy you are, how you take things over and try to run things all the time. I have a daughter just like this -- it's often the way with really bright people who actually do usually know the best way to run things. But I've notice that you've been trying not to talk in department meetings, and I wanted to commend you for that."
What is one to do with a comment like this?
Sadly, what I did was to tear up. Sigh. I wish that I were the kind of person who could hide her emotions and maintain a professional demeanor under trying circumstances. But really, to be told that one's colleagues are complaining about one? And "several"? We're a small department -- "several" is half of the folks! Soon I was trying really hard not to cry.
As I got more and more upset, I also got more and more embarrassed that I couldn't hide my distress. And I felt like I had to explain why I was not handling this feedback well. So I told them about the experience with Mr. Z, trying to stress that we were clearly both suffering from strain and tiredness here at the end of the year and that the only reason I brought it up was to explain why the chair's comment was hitting a sore spot. And, I said, it had been so comforting the next day when Mrs. Q assured me that Mr. Z's accusations were not at all the way that other department members saw me, but here was the chair telling me that this wasn't true, that "several" of my colleagues did in fact see me this way. It became clear in the conversation, by the way, that Mr. Z was one of the people who had complained about me, which makes me feel much less forgiving about his explosion to me, which I'd been thinking was perhaps a momentary response to his own stress, but now I realize that it really is about his ongoing resentment of me.
My chair was both sympathetic and, eventually, irritated at my crying -- because once I get started I really can't stop, which is a crappy personal quality to have -- and she said she'd take it out of the report if that would help, but of course removing it from print doesn't make the words unsaid. She also got a little pissy when I commented that I was essentially being commended for the extent to which I shut up, which I didn't find a particularly encouraging goal to be working toward.
The dean, who thinks I'm the cat's pajamas, was very distressed by all of this and tried to make it better by telling me how fabulous I am and that I just had to understand that some of my colleagues were no doubt threatened by all of my great ideas and my energy. And I think she's right, but still, this sucks!
So either FGS has its very own tall poppy syndrome, or I'm a truly unpleasant person whom others don't like, or both. Rats.
And that was my annual evaluation. Yippee. I actually don't mind so much crying in front of the dean, since she's really nice and thinks I'm great and was genuinely distressed that I was upset, but I do mind having cried in front of my chair, and I mind even more the restoration of my paranoia about what my colleagues think of me.
I cried all the way home, and D. gave me a big hug and has been very sweet to me all evening. She also said that "several colleagues" was perhaps just Mr. Z and the chair herself, which actually makes a lot of sense to me since they are the two folks in the department who tend to be quiet and store up resentment; the rest of us are more open in the moment about our disagreements, but those disagreements then tend to dissipate. And it would be like her to be so passive-aggressive and make a criticism under the guise of "just reporting what other people think."
So here's the remaining piece I have to deal with in all of this: The dean really wanted me and Mr. Z to have a conversation, facilitated by the chair, in which we work through our issues; her goal is to have him apologize for his verbal attack on me, but everyone in the room was actually pretty clear that this probably wasn't going to happen. I think such a meeting sounds like hell on earth, not least because the chair clearly does resent me in some ways, and I don't at all trust her not to sabotage me; indeed, I think her giving me no heads up about my "listening" problems before the meeting was a perfect example of such sabotage.
But to get out of such a meeting, I had to promise the chair and the dean that I would initiate a conversation with Mr. Z before the end of the year to talk about our interpersonal problems so that we could work together more easily next year. I had heretofore been planning on avoiding all conversation with him forever, but this has now been taken out of my hands.
The question I'm grappling with is whether I need to tell him that I have told the chair and dean about his attack on my character. This is especially pertinent since I think he's getting evaluated as well this year (I think he's in his sixth year) and is thus going to have a meeting just like I had; I don't want him to get ambushed by criticism in the way I feel like I got ambushed today. And, as I said to the dean this afternoon, I don't want to be guilty of exactly the same kind of gossiping behind someone's back that I'm distressed people are doing to me, although I don't think they're exactly comparable situations. D says that she thinks it will make things worse to say to him, "I know you're getting evaluated, so I told the authorities bad things about you," which of course isn't how I'd say it at all but might be how he'd hear it. And if I decide I should say something to him about it, I should do so ASAP since I don't know when his meeting is.
So that's what we call a really sucky afternoon! And now all of my actual accomplishments of the past year have evaporated in the face of the fact that some people in my department don't like me. You know that "lifting of spirits" I wrote about this weekend? Yeah, they're now dragged back down again.
Can summer start right now? Please?!