“My boss’ secretary looked up and said the words that may have well been nails scratching a chalk board. “That’s not my job.”
I'm sure it has happened to most of us, at one point or another, during our professional lives. For most of us, a normal day at the office has its share of stress, angst and the occasional juicy gossip exchange.
And no matter what you do, I don't care how many organizational books or methods you try to follow, the work never seems to get done. To make things worse, your patience will be tested when you least expect it. Here’s the formula: you routinely dodge bullets, put out those pesky fires and
expertly channel your pleasant phone voice to assuage even the nastiest of clients. As you roll along on your pings and pongs, beware, you may get blindsided by these four little words: "That's not my job".
These words have been known to cause neck stiffness, jaw clenching, cold sweats, and
involuntary choke holds of the speaker that dares to utter those words. I may have over-exaggerated. You may not actually experience cold sweats.
Allow fourteen seconds to pass or you may experience whiplash as you jerk your head around
to identify who had the audacity to tear away at the fibers of time had honored truths on which we rely. I mean, didn’t this person get the memo on terms like, “There is no "I" in team”, “We are in this together,” or “In union there is strength” and stuff like that.
Well, it happened to me and my neck has never been the same since. It was a simple issue, so I thought. My boss asked me to cover a hearing in a courthouse one county away. I dutifully
prepared for the 50 mile trip and the hearing. I arrived on time, found parking in the 3 story garage, tip-toed down two flights of stairs in heels, crossed the parking lot, cleared security and
marched up to the Judge’s chambers. Except that the Judge was not in, she was on vacation. Odd.
When I arrived back at the office 2 hours later, I asked, “Hey, did anyone confirm the
hearing?” My boss’ secretary looked up and said the words that may have well been nails scratching a chalk board. “That’s not my job.” I paused and wondered if she responded this
way because she was having a bad day, maybe she was not a team player or perhaps she thought she could get away with it because I am a woman and my boss is a man.
Her statement and my reaction to it brought into focus the unmistakably, fine line
women in practice must walk between assertiveness and, quite frankly, bitchiness. There is the old adage that female attorneys tend to be bossy, mean and cold. Secretaries even shudder at the thought of working for female attorneys because they have preconceived notions that we are
all monsters that constantly exhibit symptoms of PMS. In fairness, some of us do and you know who you are.
Then I thought that it should not matter whether or not this particular secretary would speak like that to my male boss. It matters that she spoke to me that way and it was unacceptable. I heard my mother’s voice and how she used to say, “Always come from a place of strength.”
Then my father’s voice interrupted, “You teach people how to treat ou.” A third voice said, “Hmm, I could o for a chocolate martini!” I resisted the martini and listened to my parents.
I took a deep breath and, instead of growing fangs and claws, I requested that she
confirm all future hearings. She agreed and that was that. That was easy! I chalked it up to a lesson in communication and anger management. Next time I am faced with an issue I don’t
think I can solve, I will listen closely to the voices in my head - in moderation, of course.
Ms. Mier is a partner with the Florida law firm, Robinson Pecaro & Mier, P.A.