Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Uncomfortable situations

I often wonder sometimes what managers are thinking when they interact with staffers.

A manager came up to me and we started discussing a court case I may be following over the next few months. Problem is that the next step - the arraignment - happens on a day that I had previously scheduled a news feature event that I needed to attend.

As we talked about my options and whether I really needed to go to the court that day, the manager let this come out of her mouth:

"Do you think [a coworker] could handle this?"

Now, the words themselves seem innocuous enough, but taken into context of the way I've seen this manager deal with this coworker, I heard it as an assessment of my co-worker's skill level.

It wasn't, "do you think we can hand this off to your coworker." It was "do you think your coworker is competent enough to do this instead of you?"

What do you say to that? I stuttered and stammered as I grasped for an answer.

"I'm sure [my coworker] could," I said, thinking to myself how horrible it would be to be the subject of this conversation. "[My coworker] is a reporter and can cover this like anyone else can."

The manager didn't seem convinced. To tell the truth, I'm not sure I was either. I told her that I'd find out more information and get back to her about the assignment. The manager said she'd mull it over once she got the additional information and walked back to her office.

I couldn't help feeling a little sleazy after the conversation, though. The manager had to have known this wasn't an appropriate conversation to be having with me - not only a contemporary of the person, but also someone very much my coworker's senior - and yet the conversation happened.

More and more, I find myself and my colleagues placed in these kinds of awkward positions. Public verbal lashings from editors, accusatory statements about our position on the work we do, and attacks on our character have all been lobbed by managers in our newsroom at one point or another. The question - which none of us have been able to find the answer to - is how do you handle it?

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Posted by T Dot at 1:27 PM | link

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