Cassandra Syndrome

I have a reputation at work: the truth teller. If I were Native American, I might be called “she-who-reveals-the-elephant-in-the-room.” I think that this reputation, this quality is perceived positively, and I’m expected to speak up and say what others are thinking but won’t say.

I worry about it, though. I worry that I’m speaking too much, too loudly. My voice is too strident. I’m too forceful. I worry that coworkers are secretly rolling their eyes at me and exchanging glances. I worry the prevailing thought is, “There goes KeAnne on her soap box again.”

I wish I could be silent. I wish I could wait until I was asked my opinion, but I can’t. The words bubble up inside me and practically explode from my mouth, spewing over everyone.  I’m compelled to say what I’m thinking. I go to a lot of meetings and in each one, I tell myself I’m going to sit and be quiet. Detach.  Be thoughtful. Pensive.

And then I wonder if I feel that way because I’m a woman. If I would feel differently if I were a man.

The downside of being a truth teller is frustration when you tell the truth, and it is ignored. I’ve always identified with Cassandra, able to predict the future and tell truths but cursed to be ignored. Cassandra watched her world fall apart around her because no one believed her predictions about the destruction of Troy.

I have no psychic ability (to my disappointment), nor am I dealing with events as catastrophic as the ones Cassandra did, but I am very, very frustrated. I find myself explaining situations, answering questions, providing information, predicting outcomes over and over and over, and it is like I am shouting into the wind. My words spin away into nothingness, never to find their target.  And the more frustrated I become, the more strident and aggressive and let’s face it, unfeminine I feel.

I feel like a traitor writing that when we’re being urged to lean in, speak up and not opt out. I want to be respected for my work and the contributions I make, the thoughts and opinions I have. I want to be a leader, a go-to person. I do not want to be a loud-mouthed bitch.

But right now, like Cassandra, I feel out of control over how I and my message are received.

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16 comments

  1. To a certain extent, I know what you are talking about.
    When I was working in an office, I was told I ought to come down my ivory tower more, because I had gotten to the point where I was fed up with the shit my team constantly came up with and expected me to gulp down, hence I stopped socialising with them, first because I hated socialising with pricks that wasted my time during office hours, and second because I got tired of always having to predict most probable outcomes and having my words ignored just because. Period. Seriously, no reason, just because. Da fuck, why was I expected to console someone who did what I specifically told NOT to do, the results I said would come came, and then I was the heartless bitch who only said ‘I told you so’? Well, I DID tell them so, they ignored me, and somehow I was to blame for what came out, just because I said it would come out that way. Useless to say, when I had the chance to leave, I had everything ready in a couple of days, and left without a single regret.
    Being a misanthrope does not help me much in this respect. But, ‘she who reveals the elephant in the room’ (catchy name, rhymes with badaboom :-)) seems to be less of a misanthrope, yet she is still ignored, even though them mofo predictions still are proven true, and it would not be such a neurosurgery level effort to come to the same conclusions as she, if only people would use the head for something more than just neck-stopper when it rains!
    Sorry for the length of the comment. And the profanity. But it was needed to emphasize my point. Which clearly was a must.
    I wish you more luck with not being ignored than you have had so far. You can do it.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, that’s what gets me. The majority of the time, if a modicum of thought had been given or even if the right people had been consulted, these situations could have been avoided. Easily! But no…it’s like common sense is dying everywhere.

  2. My DH is the same way. He doesn’t have to worry about feeling unfeminine but he does feel unheard a lot. I’m pretty sure though there are a lot of quieter people.there who appreciate your courage. It still stinks to be the one sticking your neck out. A lonely place to be. But also a really important role on the organization – being the gadfly.

    1. It is lonely, and I do have coworkers who tell me they are thankful for my speaking up, so that helps. So far, I haven’t had my head chopped off 😉

  3. Oh, yes. I know what this is like. But you are doing important work. It’s sucks that no one is listening … but some day, they will.

    Sheryl Sandberg (whom I do hate a little) said one thing during BlogHer that made me laugh: “My daughter isn’t bossy. She has executive leadership qualities.” It’s a matter of feeling confident, even if others around us aren’t, that we’re doing the right thing. And that being loud isn’t being bitchy: it’s giving a shit.

    1. Your last sentence: yes. It was once implied that my caring about a process or decision was almost quaint, like something I’d grow out of one day. Since when did it become a negative to care about your work? And the organization for which you are working? I care because I like to see things done the right way. If I didn’t care, I’d fiddle while the place burned.

  4. I am the same exact way. Case in point: when I am being treated disrespectfully at work and I communicate that multiple times and no one does anything about it, then I will leave that job. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

    LUNCH SOON. And we still need pedicures.

  5. I’m well known at work for HAVING OPINIONS. Opinions are not things that women (whom they call girls) are expected to have, and every manager I work with ends up giving me the same confused stare at some point early in our work relationship. It’s the look of surprise when yeah, I did really just say that. They view the things I say as being to blunt and slightly annoying. The same thing coming from a male coworker does not get the same look. And yes, it pisses me off.

    But, over more than a decade I’ve managed to train most of the managers in my area to listen to me. I pick my battles. If it’s something small with little consequence, I keep quiet. If I foresee something that will bite one of them on the butt, I call attention to it and offer a solution so they don’t get caught with their pants down. If I see something coming that’s going to be big or bad, I give a warning and explain the consequences. (Yes, I’m using the same logical consequences approach as I use in parenting. It’s not my fault that so many of my coworkers needs to be treated like 5 year olds) Over time, I’ve managed to help enough people that I finally get taken seriously when I speak up. But they all still groan when they see me open my mouth, because they know it’s probably going to hurt a little.

    Oh yeah, I’ve also learned to repress the “I told you so” that always wants to pop out when they don’t listen to me. But, I still think it.

    1. I’ve thought many times that my 4-year-old is more mature than many of my coworkers! I think you and I would get along very well in a work environment. I don’t mean to come across as a loose cannon, but inefficiency and poor decision-making really get to me. I’m in a unique position in which I am able to see the ramifications of a decision or understand the consequences, so I try to point them out. I hope I am choosing my battles and most of the time, I don’t mind if people are irritated. But sometimes…it rankles.

  6. This is not me, but Darcy, and he was told he needed to balance this tendency if he wanted to rise in his organization, so I think it’s equally frowned upon for men and women.

    Yet it IS important to speak up. Darcy began to chose his battles, and tried to speak up for the issues that impacted him and his department most…maybe a strategy to consider?

    1. That’s interesting, and I’m kind of glad to hear that a man needs to worry about it too. Gender equality, eh? My org really does seem to value my openness and maybe it’s because there isn’t enough of it happening! I do try to pick my battles, though the way things are lately, it seems like everything is my battle. What’s frustrating is that when I do a full-court press for something I see as a major issue, I’m eventually asked, “what is it you want?” While it’s great that they are willing to give me what I want, it’s frustrating because I’m not making a stink because it’s what *I* want. It’s what is best for the organization. Even in a ISTJ organization, facts and logic take a backseat to emotion. That is a lesson I’ve learned this year.

  7. I was the exact same way when I was working. Senior leadership would come to me and ask what people are afraid to tell them. My direct managers came to expect me to speak up, unsolicited, because I did it so often. My teams knew I’d speak up for them. This caused my team to become even more silent, and frustration for me when my thoughts and musings weren’t acted upon. It was hard to remember that even though people are asking me to share my, and others, thoughts – that those thoughts aren’t always right. And even when they were right, no one had to act on them.

    This was all a good lesson for me to keep a level head and not expect the outcome I wanted every time, even when the team and I were maybe right.

    I don’t miss this crap at all!

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