Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Mar 2, 2008

Workplace Dangers: The High-Strung Filly

Instructor, Caroline Bender

As part of our occasional field guide to the wild creatures in your workplace, the Finishing School presents a general overview and wrangler's manual to The High-Strung Filly.

General characteristics:
sex: female. There are high-strung colts in the workplace, but they are rarely dangerous, until they become stallions.

aged: any, but usually peaks between 25 and 40

breed: hotshot new manager, newly promoted middle manager, imported rock star, freshly-minted MBA, Boss's stable queen, etc.

markings: edgy business couture, PDA, stack heels, smart-girl glasses, office-to-evening hair, expensive bag, couldn't-be-bothered jewelry.

action: late night emails, frequent use of "I, me, mine," unsolicited feedback, frequent reference to previous company, scolding/condescending tone.

potential dangers: Can undermine your authority and take credit for your work, if not take it over completely; can convince highers-up that you are a liability; bypasses established procedure under the pretense of "getting it done;" expert at covering her tracks.
see also Idea Stealer

watch for: email subtext, staff poaching, off-line meetings with the Boss (yours, hers, or anyone's), systems analysis and flowcharts.

when in danger:
stay out in the open - avoid 1:1 meetings without witnesses
stay above board - do not allow yourself to be baited into over-reacting
poll your mates - find out whether you are being singled out, or caught in a wake. Either is dangerous, but it can help to know you have allies
document and file - it takes several data points to spot a trend

How to calm a high-strung filly:
The BWFS&SC goes straight to the experts. Real-life advice serves just as well in this situation. Take the reins in hand before things get skittish.

1. "Get ahold of yourself. If you are feeling nervous or upset, calm yourself down because it will only make the situation worse."
Or as they say around the paddock, "don't step in it." This advice leads right into #2. With most wild creatures, it is best not to show your fear.

2. "....show ...that you are not concerned."
While training the Filly that you will not run for the fence when she rears up, you are training yourself as well not to be afraid.

3. "Identify and remove the cause of the distress..."
Usually, for the Filly, the distress comes from your having something she does not have -- territory, influence, power, popularity... anything that adds up to established position, even if it is not a position of authority. This is not the cause you want to remove. You want to remove her distress over not having any herself.

4. "Allow [her] to do some things [s]he instinctively wants to do.."
Give her the things you don't want. It's a Tom Sawyer move, but it works nearly every time.

5. "...carefully place your face close to [her] nose and exhale out of your mouth..." Ok, not literally. With a real horse, regulating your breathing with hers will having a calming effect on both of you. In human relations, this is done by "mirroring," matching your stance, tone, posture with that of your counterpart. The Filly likes nothing better than herself, unless it is the idea that others want to be like her.

Trainer tips will also advise to "learn what scares or overexcites your [filly]," as you get to know her, and try to preventively anticipate those situations. And never turn your back on her.

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