The attorneys are all out today, doing CPE or something like it. It’s me and the rest of the non-JD staff. We all went out to lunch – on the firm – and have had a lovely day just cleaning up around here, purging files, clearing the deck in preparation for the takeover.
A couple of the bosses came back this afternoon and made beeline for my office. There was a communication issue with something they are planning and the feedback received from the staff today about the merger was very negative and hard for them to hear. I get it – I have been getting buckets of it tossed my direction all week as well. Always my conversations with staff have been considered off the record communications; they are blowing off steam and bitching about life and times as an attorney. I get it. We all get it. But for some reason today the honest dismay over the merger – they took it personally and got their boxers in a bunch with something akin to hurt feelings.
I regret to say voices were raised and doors were slammed – for once I was not the guilty party on the door slamming, a personal behavior at home that has taken me decades to break.
But they do not get to yell at me when they are mad, frustrated, or anything else about a situation I have zero control over and not sharing what is typically considered other employees confiding in me privately. I encourage them to take their concerns and feelings to the bosses, and sometimes – like today – they take the advice to heart and pour out their feelings. I think – I know – the week is getting to all of us. They yelled at me, I yelled back. Everyone in the office was cowering like children when parents and other family members get into a knock-down, drag-out verbal altercation.
I am not proud of my knee-jerk reaction; I am much better than this and my professional self should have better control of my temper. Where a week ago none of the critical comments would have mattered enough to take personally, today it was like betrayal of the first order, blown completely out of proportion.
It took a good 45 minutes for me to cool off enough to wonder what I should do about it. I shredded old files in my office and finally acknowledged that while they are being childish, I sank to that level and let them get to me. BUT, as their office doors were both still firmly shut, there was nothing for me to do except work.
Partners 3 and 4 came in while I was debating my next course of action. They stopped briefly to ask me how long I would be in the office and very nicely asked me to stay and talk with the 4 of them. Of course. I figured the worst that would happen is that I got fired today and burned a professional reference. It was upsetting to imagine, but entirely possible.
So 20 minutes later the 5 of us are sitting in the conference room like so many times before. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to apologize, and if I was, could I fake it well enough to at least appear contrite? Nope, unlikely. So I didn’t say anything.
They spoke about the impact the merger is having on the staff, how they “probably” handled it poorly, and that the acquiring corporation being here this week was harder than they foresaw on everyone. Ya think? Part of the issue with these guys is that they are emotionally tone deaf when it comes to their employees. They think everyone thinks and feels and acts pretty much like they do, except it’s not true. I am living, breathing proof of that, and one of my functions within the firm is to be the sounding board and steering wheel for the morale and spirits of the staff. The news was hard for me – I characterize it like the ego-bruising heartbreak of a relationship ending when you still have strong feelings for the other party and do not want and are not ready for it to end – and I have been struggling with being able to listen to the staff as firm management and sort out my own feelings as their employee peer. It’s rendered me less effective in this role this week. Then I have the Hellbeast waltzing through what is still my territory and messing with my peeps almost immediately after finding out this change is going forward? So. Not. Cool. As M said to me, “territorial much?” to which I was completely unrepentant in my emphatic “oh FUCK YES!” reply.
I value relationships. I value my associates and the camaraderie and trust we have built over the past couple of years. I prize that my bosses are men with whom I can speak directly and completely candidly without fear of retaliation or worse. I have never had anything like that in a corporate structure, and I dislike not trusting my peers or management. It does not make for a happy workplace wondering what direction I’ll be facing when the backstabbing happens.
So yeah, emotions are running high all over the place. I think we will all recover and regain our footing, but we need the stability of normal, business as usual for the next couple of weeks. There needs to be some time to adjust and get our footing with the change before the suits are in our midst and glad-handing us like professional politicians. They agreed.
And maybe some informal conversation and communications about what the future holds. Yesterday was the first new normal last of our present firm days and everyone was busy with various things related to the merger. Today the office was mostly empty and what they heard from the staff was to be expected.
Blaming me for not telling them what I was hearing was wrong. I received appropriate, unsolicited apologies. Accepted, let’s move on.
This is what I will miss about my great little firm experience. Business is business, family is family, but people get angry and lose their shit, sometimes inappropriately, but always understandably. Unless things are getting thrown across the room (my predecessor once had a tantrum where he pushed an entire desktop of work onto the floor in someone’s office becasue they had not gotten their paperwork in for a second straight month – the horror!), all is generally forgiven. People are people, and with the ruling body open to admitting their own mistakes and forgiving others when stuff happens, the workplace is a much healthier, secure place.
So I walked out tonight with same sort of grief over all that I am losing while at the same time feeling more comforted that I am not the only one who grieves. While this is an amazing opportunity for the partners, they are well aware that they are breaking up a really good firm filled with very loyal, dedicated people. It’s not personal; it is just business. But because we are loyal and dedicated employees, it is impossible for us to not take it somewhat personally. Intellectually we all understand it. Emotionally we are all still shell-shocked and saddened. The people we are, though – our emotions are on the clock to get sorted out and resolved before this change it fully implemented. Any expectation that we will be over our sad in a week is unrealistic.
The bosses all get it now. It only took a brawl with their “work wife” to slam the point home.
I do not look forward to the interactions with the Hellbeast the lie ahead, but I have big enough big girl pants to handle myself with a professional demeanor. She and I – we will never have the trust I share with my present partners; I cannot ever let my guard down enough to honestly express any of my emotions. And I genuinely suck at robotic impassivity.
Despite a rocky week, I will miss my firm in its present management and dynamic. I realize there are only 15 work days left for my job in this firm and work environment and it makes me sad. Best I can hope for is to rise above the rest of the corporate bullshit to savor each and every one of them.
Work-zilla has taken over the blog. Apologies in advance for reporting my day-to-day trauma drama.