Cutting distractions loose

I recently made an unpleasant decision after a very unpleasant confrontation, and though I do regret the immediate impetus for my decision, I also recognize that this decision probably should have been made long before reaching this point.

Allow me to explain.

I’ve been on a Google Groups mailing list ever since starting the CPCB Ph.D. program. It was started as a way for us students to keep in touch, ask for help regarding coursework, and to plan social events easily. For the first few years, it served its purpose well.

Once our research started taking priority and we saw less of each other, the social planning aspect of it was still relevant but the academic aspects waned. Consequently there was less structure, allowing the idiosyncrasies of the constituent members of the list to come to the forefront.

Group dynamics, while an intrinsically important aspect of both personal and professional development–No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.'”–have their own challenges to work through. When the dynamics are in your favor, a group outperforms individuals every time, period. But when the dynamics turn sour, a group can easily perform even worse than an individual.

Even in the early days of this mailing list, it quickly became apparent that there were personality conflicts. My single biggest pet peeve is when disagreements [INEVITABLY] surface and tensions peak, nobody takes responsibility. In this case, while the immediate crisis may be resolved in some sense, the underlying dynamics are not addressed, virtually guaranteeing future conflict.

Coding Horror points out the obvious solution:

Still, the obvious solution is to address the problem at its source: get rid of the bad apple.

Even if it’s you.

I can recognize that, several years ago, I was the bad apple in my group at an internship. Maybe not the only one, but I did not display the requisite leadership qualities or wield a sufficient level of maturity and self-awareness to absorb and understand the dynamics of the group. My approach was closer to that of a bulldozer.

In this case, I’m again more than willing to accept my share of blame. I lost my temper in a recent email thread and said some things I should not have. While not juvenile, they were unprofessional and uncalled for. Furthermore, I violated my own rule of not getting pulled into arguments on the internet; they’re [almost] utterly pointless. And calling out an individual over a group email thread is just plain bad form.

So I sent a private email to the individual, apologizing for my outburst. Then I promptly unsubscribed from the group email list.

That was something I should have done long ago. If our email threads were of a scientific nature, this individual would often express interest and then very quickly condescend our inputs on it. If our threads were of a meme or gaming or past-time nature, this individual would berate us for spending too much time on “trite” things unrelated to research. Posting to the list became a lose-lose situation; while this individual was not the most active user on the list, they would go through bursts of activity. We all started dreading the next time this user would show up, and sighed with relief whenever they disappeared again.

That’s not a healthy dynamic. And with my new kickass job and new surroundings, it was proving more of a distraction and a hindrance to settling in here.

The key to these sorts of situations is self-awareness. We need to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses, of where we can help drive the group forward, and when we may very well be the ones holding the group back. I pride myself in being very easygoing, able to work with just about anyone and lead either from the front or the back (wherever I’m most needed); however, I also recognize that I do not [yet] handle statements judging aspects of my personal life in a professional setting very well. While I very strongly believe that one’s personal life should be off-limits in professional settings, I do understand that we do not live in an ideal world, and so this is a pressure point I need to work on.

I do know this: ever since unsubscribing from the list, I have been noticeably more relaxed in my work. Definitely the right decision.

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
This entry was posted in Academics, Graduate School, Real Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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