Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hello! Please stop being a jerk!

Work really sucks right now.  Like, I should probably start looking for another job?

On the plus side, I'm gaining some skills and knowledge that I'm very excited about.  Also on the plus side, I'm gaining some ground on not getting so terribly perturbed by my co-workers.

But it seems to me like the people I work with are now deeply entrenched within confirmation bias, and their bias is that I'm incompetent.  This makes for a serious lack of fun.  And makes it surprisingly difficult to be productive at certain tasks.

They say things that are frustrating, and this is not new.  People have been saying frustrating things since the accident.  My accident.  My responses have been varying, and I still haven't found a way to respond that I like.

Initially, I was so shocked by my colleagues' statements that I was speechless.  This phase involved quite a bit of gaping and also a decent amount of crying.  Blinding rage followed closely behind.  During this phase, I was also mute, mainly because the thoughts that sprang to mind were clearly not conducive to a collegial work environment.

I'm currently trying Earnest Discussion:
"I'm having difficulty with experiment Y and was wondering ..."
"Oh, you do X?  When doing experiment Y?"

Now, data logs show that my supervisor does not, in fact, do X.  He is nonetheless very confident when suggesting, impatiently, that the reason I am having trouble with experiment Y is that I do not do X.  How do I respond?  I do not wish to be confrontational, but the information he's giving me isn't helpful, so ...

"I'd like to do X, that seems like a good idea.  But it's not clear to me how I can manage that, given that I usually A and B.  Those seem like the only way to make X happen - do you have any suggestions on how to make sure to ..."
"Right, yeah, I get that C is true.  That's why I do A and B.  Is there anything else I could be doing to make sure X happens?"
"No, no, I don't want to waste Expensive, Valuable Resource.  It's just that the behavior really suggests that something is going on with "
"Oh, yeah, that'd be great.  If we could do experiment Y', that would help clarify what's going on."

Now, it's true.  Experiment Y' will help clarify what's going on.  So in some ways, this exchange was successful.  I follow the path of non-confrontation because I worry that pointing out to my supervisor that he does not do X will turn the conversation into a non-useful fight that serves only to make me look really petty.

"But you don't doooooooo that.  I checked the data like a creepy stalker and look!  See how you're wrong?  Admit you're wrong!  Admit it!"

In many cases, though, taking the non-confrontational path feels like verifying assumptions that I'm not a good worker/scientist/problem-solver:

"If you had just looked in the lab book, you would have seen that's expected behavior!"

Dude, I looked in the lab book.  You didn't write down enough information for me to be anywhere near certain that the numbers you're pointing to can be directly applied to the setup we've currently got.  And remember how you were lecturing me about not "playing around" with these particular parts, as they're expensive and custom and very necessary for experiments we hope to do in the near future?  Okay, whatever.  You know?  I agree.  It's always good to check the lab book.  That's a true thing.

"Okay.  Lab books are great.  I'll make sure to check the lab book next time."

Success?  It's true, I'll check the lab book next time.  That's not a bad thing to confirm.  And I think the interaction resulted in more good-feeling than if I had been all, "dude DUH I checked the lab book.  Maybe if your notes didn't suck so much I could've found the info I needed."

I think it's useful to reduce tension between me and my supervisor, but not correcting him allows interpretations like, "Oops, silly me, I didn't think to check the lab book!"  And also, "Oops, I didn't know that basic thing about physics.  Thanks for telling me!"  And also, "Oops!  I should have warned you about the test I was about to do!  In writing, since I totally warned you verbally but it was silly for me to assume that you were paying attention to what I said!"  I am not saying any of these things, nor would I.  But I'm worried that my supervisor is hearing them.

I think I'm okay with my supervisor thinking I'm dumb as long as he's also able to change his opinion.  And since confronting his misconceptions directly wasn't productive, this method at least seems worth a try.  But it worries me a bit.  I don't want future me to be all, "Oops!  I assumed you'd be able to objectively evaluate evidence since you're a scientist.  But I forgot that everyone's brain works to confirm their worldview, and that scientists can be prone to thinking their version of reality is unimpeachably accurate!  My bad!"

Well, it is true that I make an awful lot of missteps.  I should clearly spend less of my brain power thinking about unicorns, and how soft their noses are.  And how beautiful their eyes are.

Actually, I don't mean that.  I think those are great things to think about.  And now I'm going to go to sleep so I can go for a nice, early hike with my friend.  Who is not a unicorn but is nonetheless awesome.

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