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Answer: Sometimes people are just jerks


Last week I was interviewed by Scott Luton, host of the Supply Chain Now podcast, for their ‘Full Access’ series. (You can listen to the podcast here.) Scott and I go ‘way back’ so it was easy to find things to talk about, but he also asked me some great questions about how I reached this point in my career and what advice I would give to people just getting started.

Some of the questions were easy:

  • What was one of my early hobbies? Rowing – I went to one of the only public schools in Massachusetts (at the time anyway) that had a crew team, and so I walked straight into the Varsity boat in college. Fun fact: I rowed the Head of the Charles 4 times.
  • Where did I go to school? Clark University (B.A. English and History), Simmons College (M.S. Library and Information Science) and Babson College (M.B.A).
  • How did I end up in procurement? I got laid off from my ‘real job’. It’s a long story… one I cover in the podcast.

But some of Scott’s questions were very hard. The hardest question of all was this: “From a leadership standpoint, what advice do you have for young ladies that would differ from the advice you’d give any and everyone?”

This question wasn’t hard because I don’t have an answer. It was hard because my advice is so simple and yet it took me so long to learn. My advice: sometimes people are just jerks.

We’ve all dealt with jerks. They’re everywhere. In my case, however, I used to feel like I was being treated poorly because I am a woman. In one specific instance, I shared my frustration with my husband. “He wouldn’t treat me like this if I were a man!” I said, completely exasperated. He looked at me for a minute, cautiously, and then said, “You know, some people are just jerks. He’s probably a jerk to everybody.”

I’ll admit it took me a while to warm up to this explanation. I started repeating it to myself as necessary. One day it hit me; it doesn’t matter if someone is being a jerk because I am a woman or because they are a jerk. Either way, the problem is theirs, not mine. Trying to understand their motivations is a waste of my time and energy – something I shouldn’t let them steal.

More importantly, assuming there was a gender bias issue at play might tempt me into handling a situation emotionally, and that is never a win. I often tell people that in order to be successful as a freelancer or a small business owner, it has to be personal. I still believe that. In my mind, however, that’s not the same as allowing the people I work with to get personal with me. That’s the advantage of being independent. If you’re unpleasant, I don’t have to deal with you.

Now, not everyone has such liberties, and I sometimes feel compelled to work with people I wouldn’t want to have a beer with. What do I do then? I mentally build a wall around those people. I don’t build a wall around me – I am not the one with the problem (see above) – but around them. I contain the damage. If I can, I handle all communications through email rather than getting on the phone. If I can’t, I psych myself up beforehand and make sure I have a time buffer after the call to calm down.

I also look for not-jerks to connect with and invest in. When you look at it that way, you quickly realize that the not-jerks outnumber the jerks 1 million to 1. Working with them not only builds you up, it also creates more benefit for everyone involved. Happy professionals are productive professionals.

For more of my insights on procurement and supply chain, including the importance of balancing investments in talent with investments in technology, listen to the Supply Chain Now Radio podcast. Remember to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest interviews on your chosen service/device.

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