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January 24, 2009 / ilegirl

I Did It My Way

One of my favorite blogs is The Sartorialist, a fashion photographer and … well, sartorialist, who posts marvelous photos of people wearing something intriguing or engaging.  A recent photo of well-attired Italian mother and her trendy daughter led me to muse on style.

I like fashion, though I do not always dress fashionably.  I feel good when I am dressed well, and my definition of dressing well admittedly differs from the next woman; I like one interesting twist to spring an outfit to life, such as a bright colored sweater, a patterned blouse, or a vintage shape in a dress.  I have a personal rule: a necklace, a scarf or a vest – but only one of these at a time.

I observe that others have their own sets of rules.  One friend always wears wedge heels because she enjoys a pretty heel but likes the comfort of unbroken foot support.  Another layers tank-style tees under vintage cardigans – a simple pairing that looks pulled together but never studied.  One friend would go to work in sweatpants if the company’s dress code would allow, and favors sneakers or fleece-lined clogs.  Another wears very clean lines in subdued colors but always carries a smart designer bag.

Each of us has found her style, and we did so by experimenting and discovering what helped her to feel comfortable.  And this comfort is not only the physical sense of well-being, but also a psychological satisfaction in looking back at the mirror to see someone we recognize and like.  When the only clean items in the closet don’t correspond to this image we create in our own minds, we may wear those clothes but we don’t feel the same; we are not comfortable, and don’t feel like ourselves.

So it is as well in our interactions with other people.  We each have a signature of sorts, and ideally have developed a communication style that reduces the dissonance between who we are and who we present to the world.   When we struggle, it is because we are striving to maintain this integrity, or because we need to protect something inside ourselves that is a bit too delicate for the bright, often harsh light of public scrutiny.

Interactions with other people are, by nature, fraught.  The Other brings a set of interests, opinions, characteristics and biases to the table – at least as many as we bring ourselves.  This virtual table is circled with various baggage shapes invisible to the eye, and become exceptional impediments if we bolt unexpectedly.  We cannot control the Other, because this Other is strange to us, outside of our minds.  The best we can do under such circumstances is to do what we can, then trust that we each pick up our invisible baggage and leave the table safely.

I am no mistress of interaction.  I am not an expert on communicating with others.  I am, in fact, slightly on the GEEK side of the number line.  This I had frequently viewed as an impairment, and had nearly given up on the hope of interacting with Others.  I looked around me and observed people who were bullying or dispassionate, shy or belligerent, mean or sweet.  I thought these were normal ways of relating, and since none of them fit I gave up trying, and forgot all about it.

Becoming a manager changed this.  It became ever more important to discuss difficult topics with people who were truly strangers.  I was required to interact with those whose do not share my geek values.  I was compelled to work on projects with people whose personalities were in every way contrary to my own.

This was very annoying.

I would become frustrated by the dolts who could not comprehend the difference between if and select.  I had no interest in distinguishing between a person who respectfully disagreed with me or another who was downright insubordinate.  I vacillated between anger and embarrassment, and wondered why I was so deficient while I saw others around me handling their teams with seeming ease.  So I emulated those others, which increased both my anger and embarrassment.  I discovered I was even more deficient than I had originally believed.  I was a terrible manager with a lousy attitude and a rotten temper.

At this low point in my career, I began to understand that I needed to make myself comfortable by developing a style of my own.  My necklace/scarf/vest rule is not something I consciously follow because over time it became natural for me, but at some point in my apparel-loving life I did consider the situation and made a decision to adopt a minimalist approach to dress.  Why is it any different for interactions with other people?

The key for me was to stop comparing myself with other managers and instead try something different, an approach to fit my personality.  I have to be comfortable in my everyday interactions in order to undertake the difficult work of discussing an employee’s problems or confronting a colleague.  If I am constantly floundering, afraid and insecure, the difficult conversations become terrifying and impossible, a journey into some dark unknown world rather than merely a detour down a poorly-paved road.

And so over time I have developed my own interaction style rules, and I learn more as I continue to grow in my career and in my personal life.  I make loads of mistakes, but I am more comfortable now in viewing these as learning experiences because I have established ways of relating to people in the work environment that generally work well for me.

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4 Comments

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  1. psychscribe / Jan 25 2009 6:45 am

    Wow. What a great post. I love how you managed to weave together the dress style with management style. Great writing too 🙂

  2. ilegirl / Jan 25 2009 6:25 pm

    I find loads of management analogies in everyday life – some funny, some positively sad, and most in the middle grey spot where our friend irony lives.

    Thanks!

  3. Amber / Jan 25 2009 11:58 pm

    This is a great style.. and I recognize a few friends in here..

    Actually you are like Brit in the fact that you are warm enough as a person to understand others like sunshine colors. Many Geeks can’t do that black and white are their only colors, and odd shades of grey. You also have compassion to your “style” of dress and personality. That adds depth to color that you splash. And finally, you have a zest which makes you spicy and rich. All good for fashion, management, and people!

    MHO… but then.. I love ya!

  4. ilegirl / Jan 26 2009 7:52 pm

    Amber, that is so kind! I am blushing.

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