Too much vinegar

I’ve a few more grey hairs since I last wrote. When I started out on this caper – life – I had no inkling that the further you went into it the more complex it becomes.

Now there are many and varied reasons for the new crop of grey, but it’s not worth going into all of them. All of us have issues. All of us are aware that shit happens. Much of what happens to me is not dissimilar to what happens to others. I tend to think I have more stuff, and generally more complex/difficult/painful than most, but that’s neither her nor there. What choice do we have in life but to deal with what it throws at us?

There is one story I’ll share, mainly because it is instructive. That’s the other thing I get reminded of daily as I grow older – you never stop learning. Unfortunately much of it is the hard way.

Unsurprisingly this story relates to the shop, which is exposed a whole new world of wisdom to me.

Yesterday morning I arrived to meet with Lisa and to sort out new policies, a draft employment agreement, pay structure, and roster. Lots of stuff, and pretty central. We’ve proceeded through the first two of those when Bella, one of the therapists, finishes with a customer and ventures out to speak with Lisa.

Bella is a warm, attractive, very pleasant Kiwi. She’s a good masseuse, and popular with the customers. We’ve had a couple of work related issues with her – she won’t work past 7, and there have been times she’s refused doing a massage, resulting in us losing a customer. These are no small things when you’re running a business and every cent counts, but not insurmountable. As a manager I’m always focussed on solutions, and so I had some workarounds in mind.

Lisa, the manager, is terrific in most regards, as I’ve previously stated. Where she is deficient is in handling people. Like a lot of Asians in my experience, she can be casually blunt. It’s surprising at first, but sort of refreshing also, and in my case at least you simply take it as being part of the package, and not intended personally.

The flipside of that is that I’ve observed how she tends to take breaches in policy and process more personally. For me they’re failings of process. I’m not happy about it, but I’ll seek a solution to it rationally and objectively. For Lisa it seems almost as if she takes these breaches as direct attacks upon her authority. It is personal, and that’s how she tackles it.

Yesterday Bella wanted to have it out with Lisa about a shift being cancelled. Bella arrived on Tuesday expecting to work and was told her shift had been changed. Lisa said she sent a text message advising Bella of it days before, and Bella said she never got it. As happens so often in arguments they bogged down in claim and counter-claim while I watched, bemused at first, then concerned. I waded in. Settle down I said – it had become quite heated. Lets just agree to a miscommunication I said. sadly, that didn’t take.

By now Lisa had a glint in her eye as Bella had a tear in hers. Lisa went on to attack Bella about her failure in ‘responsibilities’. You have to imagine a very slight, intelligent, highly fired up Vietnamese girl going for the softer Kiwi’s jugular. Bella began to defend herself as I attempted once more to intervene. By now it was too late. Bella said she couldn’t work here. I said, don’t be rash, Lisa said, go then.

Bella went. With tears in her eyes she fled down the hallway to change and get her bag. I spoke to Lisa quickly, telling her she had to learn to use the carrot as well as the stick. Then I followed Bella to placate her, to calm her, to convince her to stay.

Now it’s my attitude that if someone breaks down in tears in the shop then there has been a major failure. Had Lisa said to me “I think we should let Bella go” I’d have questioned her, I’d have posited alternative solutions, but as manager of the shop would have supported her decision. If that’s to happen then we do it in a measured, civilised way – there should be no arguments, no tears, no-one storming off. That’s not the sort of shop I want.

I felt sad for Bella. She felt badly aggrieved and I was sympathetic to her, but nothing I could say now would change her mind. She was very sorry she said, I think you’re a great guy and I wish you luck, but I can’t work with Lisa. I told her to think it over, then returned to the reception area.

Was this over? Not by a longshot. I returned to find Lisa shrugging on her coat and picking up her bag. Now she was furious with me. I’d betrayed her by going after Bella, and she was gone before I could stop her.

So, in the space of 15 minutes I’d lost a therapist and my manager. I sat there in the shop alone, my brain ticking over, thinking, what the fuck?

I’m in the shop now, and will be tomorrow also, sitting here in Lisa’s place. I’m pissed off with her because she’s let me down, but sympathetic to the degree that I know she’s an emotional type. I know she’s very upset – I’ve been communicating to her through her friend.

She used to complain that I was too soft on the staff, but the fundamental difference between us is cultural I think. She grew up in a society where you basically did what you were told. You bark out orders, or have them barked out to you, and compliance is expected.

For better or worse we’re more independent here, and won’t tolerate the stringent and authoritarian. You can’t demand of people as if they’re indentured serfs. It must be explained, this is the process, this is the policy, this is what we want of you, and this is why. As I am always reminded, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Lisa is all vinegar, and sees anything other than that as a weakness.

As it is I’m now in deep shit again. Lisa, for her faults, was very effective at 80% at what she did, and central to most of the processes and initiatives in the shop. She had great energy and passion – I really do respect her. Now there’s a chance she will come back, but if she does I need to speak to her, and doubtless change some of her responsibilities.

For now I’m manager and receptionist, trying to make sense of the scattered pieces. Bella, I’m sure, is gone forever.

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