This may be the most interesting letter I have ever received:
I am 53, and was diagnosed with ADHD 10 years ago. I also suffer from chronic depression, and severe anxiety. I am socially inept, prone to interrupting people and talking too much about my ideas. In general, my managers have disliked me, but I have been tolerated because I work very hard and mostly do a good job. I haven't had a raise at work for 7 years, which I attribute to being a challenge to work with, so I don't complain.
Five months ago, I was assigned to a new manager, who really dislikes me. He went around and found 4 other people who agreed with him, then brought me to a meeting with his manager and told him I am aggressive, argumentative and hostile. I was horrified - I never thought I was that bad. I know I get irritable under stress, and I interrupt too much. I try really hard to control both, but don't manage too well. Luckily, his manager disagreed with him, and said to me that it is not my fault if people don't like me, they still have to work with me. Since then, my manager has ignored me, and given me a poor performance review. I have never had a poor performance review before. I know he has not given up on getting rid of me. Even if I could find another job, things may not be any different. They probably wouldn't like me either.
So my question is this. What do people do if they are unlikable, if even 10 years of therapy and medication don't help? Do unlikable people have any right to expect to be allowed to just do their job as well as they can, and keep out of social situations as best they can, and be at least tolerated by their team? And if not, how do they live?
First of all, and this is probably what I'd focus on if I were using this in the column, the situation described above is one that could happen to anyone, unlikable or not. Plenty of people have had a colleague or boss just who has it in for them for reasons irrelevant to job performance. For anyone in that situation, my advice would be to document, document, document; make sure your work is stellar (unless the LW is being modest, "mostly" doing a good job is not enough, especially in this economy); and get supporters on your side without creating a "with us or against us" environment and fomenting civil war. That's the quick & dirty & pragmatic take on it. But what about the philosophical take?
I think what fascinates me about this letter is how I keep flipping back and forth on how I see it. Regardless of the letter writer's (LW in advice-speak) likability, they are a good writer and a clear thinker. It's like a literary equivalent of a vases/faces illusion. Depending on how I look at it, I can either see an afflicted person making a legitimate plea for tolerance and understanding, or I can see someone who claims to have a disease that makes it impossble for them to treat other people with respect. The LW is willing to use the phrasing, "I am unlikable," but not "I treat people badly."
What do you see?
This letter reminded me of a comment that came in when I wrote a post on advice for new professors last August, in which I explained some of my own classroom rules about appropriate classroom demeanor, time management, e-mail and office-hour etiquette, and the like. The commenter wrote:
Basically, as I read each point they all make sense on the surface, and I totally understand them from the professor's point of view. I especially like the idea of realizing that something is affecting your impression of students anyway, so you might as well make it explicit (this pleases my not-very-good-at-reading-people/between-the-lines brain very much).
Yet each one set off alarm bells all over the place about how they would impact a student with learning disabilities and/or mental illness such as depression. While I would hope that every professor would try to be aware of these issues and be willing to cooperate with academic accommodations requested through appropriate official channels, the sad and frustrating truth is that this is not always the case. So I just feel the need to say: please try to remember that sometimes there is more going on than you might realize.
More accommodation is made in the classroom than in the workplace, and if a student did go through the proper channels, I'd be willing to accommodate them. But that wouldn't change my own need for respect, for organization, for efficiency. I'd have curtailed those needs, because I was a teacher and teachers owe more to their students than managers owe to their underlings. Clearly, the LW's current manager doesn't feel as though he should have to curtail his needs in order to manage the LW. Lisa Belkin wrote a thought-provoking article about ADHD in the workplace the New York Times magazine in 2004. She interviewed many people with AD(H)D for her article, and noted:
They arrived late. They fidgeted while we talked. They started to ask questions but forgot where they were headed. They kept saying, ''One more thing,'' until I learned to be blunt to the point of rude in my goodbyes. One woman sent me long, bursting e-mail messages, sometimes several of them a day, one of which literally ended, ''running off to my next projecttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt zoommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!'' One man called me on my cellphone at 8 on a Saturday night because he thought of a question he had to ask. He would not be deterred, even when I told him I couldn't really talk because I was visiting my father in the hospital.
This is objectively rude behavior--that's a point you can't argue. Does it matter that a person with attention deficit disorder can't help it? Neurotypical people can't help wanting to be treated with courtesy, either. Does that matter?
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.