Don’t Dumb Me Down!


The lesson I am going to tell you about was a big one for me. It has stayed with me, and I tell the story to anyone who will listen.

It was the late 90’s, and I was working in the dental practice that immediately preceded me owning my own practice. I was one of two receptionists, the other being Rachel. We seemed to enjoy each other’s company, and worked happily together.  Because I had been at this practice longer than Rachel and I knew the software program well, I was happy to train and guide her in the ‘way things were done here’.

A couple of years later, and despite being very happy, I decided a change would be exciting and took a sales position that a colleague offered me.

The owner of this company was well-meaning and friendly. However he found it impossible to place his faith in his employees. He double-checked everything I did. He hovered behind me while I was speaking with clients over the phone, whispering what I should be saying next. He never even felt confident in me enough to allow me out on the road to perform in the sales role he had hired me for, instead keeping me in the office, packing and sending parcels.

Even though only a few months had passed, I started to experience quite dramatic effects from working in this environment.

My self-confidence dropped dramatically, because I was being managed in such a way that indicated I couldn’t be trusted and that I was incompetent. I found simple problem solving now a challenge because I had someone questioning everything I did, doing all my thinking for me. My short term memory also suffered.

I was surprised at how quickly my mental processes started to diminish.

When my previous boss contacted me and asked whether I was happy, I said no. She kindly offered me my old position. I was grateful and jumped at the chance to return. However she called me again a few minutes later. “There may be a problem. There is one staff member that is not happy you are coming back.”

I knew instantly who it would be: Rachel. And I knew why she was concerned. Just as I had suffered the effects of being controlled and micro-managed, Rachel had suffered because of me.

I recalled how I would ‘train’ Rachel in how ‘things were done’ at the practice. What I was actually doing was dictating her to do everything my way. My management style was to stifle her creativity and autonomy, and control her.

I was blind to what I was doing to Rachel at the time of working with her. But now it was obvious to me. I did not like that this was the manager I had become. I did not want to affect another person in such a destructive way.

I said to my old boss “It’s Rachel who will have the issue. And I know why. And I know I can fix it, if she will give me a chance.”  I asked to meet with Rachel for coffee.

Sitting with Rachel, I explained what my experience had been. I asked her, “Is this what I did to you Rachel?” She agreed, yes. I apologised and asked whether I could have the chance to make amends. I made a vow to her that I would do whatever I had to, to ensure she felt appreciated, supported and in control.

Thankfully Rachel agreed to work together again. We developed a strategy that included effective communication and honesty. She could pull me up the second I started to behave in a controlling manner, and I promised I would react to her with only gratitude for helping me recognise and adjust my negative responses.

Trust was paramount to this plan working, and we both honoured the process. We became strong friends and our working relationship was one that encouraged each of us to grow and achieve success.

Upcoming blogs will discuss the many lessons I drew from my experience with Rachel: Clarifying honesty in a working relationship, the importance of being true to your word, respecting co-workers sense of ‘self’ and how we flourish when we feel safe.

I am eternally grateful to Rachel for taking the risk and working with me to become the type of manager that I am proud to be today.