I was never good with people.
As a kid, I was usually left to my own devices and found myself alone most of the time. The only time I wasn’t alone was when I was in school, where I learnt early on that it could be both fun and frightening.
Not having any siblings or cousins near my age nor peers living in my neighbourhood, classmates became an important ‘source’ for building my ‘people’ skills from young.
But truth be told, it just wasn’t easy for an introvert like me to make friends, nor handle the different “playground characters and politics” that existed.
For instance, there were the…
There will always be the cry baby boys and girls who will tear up at the slightest bruise or teasing.
I remember there was one boy in my class (an only child) who kept a large cotton hanky in his pocket at all times. It peeked out of his pants just enough for the whole world to see, and to be reminded how quickly his tap could flow!
He would whip it out at the slightest provocation to dry his tears, tears that magically appeared out of nowhere with the slightest batting of an eyelid.
Surely a formidable skill set!
Looking back, I am now of the belief that it was actually a clever ruse on his part to stave off…
Of course there will always be bullies.
You know, the ones who compose jingles that poke fun at your name. Or pull down your pants from behind. Or push you to the ground and topple your pencil case or water bottle to the floor.
With these guys, I have found it most challenging to know how best I should ‘deal’ with them. Or how to ‘work’ with them to ensure world peace in our little school yard.
Most of the time I’m just busy finding ways to avoid them as much as I could!
Tough, since they’re almost always in the same class as I was year after year after year.
And, unlike those cry babies who eventually outgrew their ways (though some evolve to become what I call in an earlier blog post the “needy victims“), bullies nearly always stay the same, though they metamorphose…
…As time goes by…
…into what I call “corporate bullies”.
According to Dr. Carroll M. Brodsky in The Harassed Worker, corporate bullying refers to “repeated and persistent attempts by one person to torment, wear down, frustrate or get a reaction from another. It is treatment which persistently provokes, pressures, frightens, intimidates or otherwise discomforts another person.”
Sounds pretty awful, right?
By the time I reached adulthood, I thought I could “read” people like that fairly accurately, and steer clear. All those years of playground politics and bullying ought to have trained me well, no?
And when I couldn’t read such folks, I would rely on my gut feel and intuition.
To my credit (but often my detriment too), I tried to give people the benefit of a doubt even when my gut screamed “run!”
Yet, the one category of people I could never ‘handle’ were the once-upon-a-time playground bullies who grew up to become today’s dreaded corporate bullies (CBs).
Because of my lack of people skills, I often found out too late that I had inadvertently stepped on the toes of these CBs, often without realising how they felt about something I inadvertently said or did (or didn’t say or do).
So I would often end up having the wind knocked out of me when they spoke ill of me behind my back, took actual steps to ostracise me, or worse, sabotage me at work.
It happened at every place I’d ever worked in! Nope, I kid you not. EVERY PLACE!
The worse were those who appeared all nice and friendly in front of me, but who would stab me in the back ever so subtly that I walked around for weeks not knowing that I was leaving a trail of blood in my wake!
And all because I didn’t know how to…
…Do the “Hustle”!
Here’s the thing.
Career progression was always something I foolishly assumed to be a “given”.
All of my academic life, I’d been blessed to move up smoothly from one level to the next. Other than a momentary scare when I thought I wouldn’t get a place in the local university, I had always risen up the academic ladder like most of my peers.
So the ease of it made me think naively that it’ll always be this way, even after I completed my basic degree and began my career.
Call it my first fatal mistake.
My second fatal mistake?
You guessed it. My aforementioned lack of people skills.
After nearly three decades of slaving in the world of work, I finally concluded that when it came down to it, I just didn’t know how to ‘hustle’.
To do the corporate dance.
To play the boardroom chess game.
To sway in the direction the wind blows.
Choose whichever metaphor you like. The reality is I simply didn’t know how to read, work and adjust to different people with the ‘right’ people skills. I was like a stubborn brick wall; the same in every situation and any weather, good or bad.
No surprise that I never got any significant promotions up the corporate ladder, and I never got very far with colleagues and people I met in the course of my career.
The bottomline? It is…
…what it is, and I am what I am!
Truth be told, I won’t apologise anymore for the lack of this life skill, though there was a time I would slink off embarrassingly with my proverbial tail firmly between my legs.
Maybe it’s because I’m too far down the road of life now to turn back the clock. Not even Father Time could do that.
Maybe it’s because I’ve learnt that CBs or others like them don’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things. These would eventually either implode from their own lack of decency, or meet their match and succumb, like moths in a flame.
Either way, I’m not without the will and gumption to stay the course despite my lack of people skills. Wouldn’t be here to blog this otherwise.
So to those who’ve shown me over the years how much I lack people skills, don’t worry. I won’t bother you no more, not that it’s ever bothered you of course.
But more to the point, you (and my lack of people skills) don’t bother me no more either!