I work on assorted social research projects and one fact I’ve come to realize about all of them is the glaring differences in social interactions when I’m working with a team of researchers as opposed to working alone.
On the one study I work with a dynamic group of ladies. They’re all strong in their minds and in their opinions and most of them have a lot more going on than the study we’re working on. I know I can always count on each one of them to have my back and vice versa. Even when I’m annoyed with one of them, I wouldn’t ever dream of undermining them as people. Here’s an example: If you walked up to any of them and said “She sure is a bitch. I don’t like her.” I can guarantee their response would go something like this; “No, she’s not a bitch and you’re missing out if you don’t take the time to get to know her.” or something like that. They’d instantly come to my defense. When I consider that, outside of work we rarely connect, this is rather revelatory of friends I talk to almost everyday. I have a feeling if presented with the opportunity to defend me, some of them would back off and act like they barely know me instead.
These ladies would never dig for the juicy details either.
This has not always been my experience when working with large traveling groups of researchers though.
There is a another large group I work with and the subject being studied is totally different and less intense.The meat of a study can take a toll on everyone, so you’d think doing a fluff study would tame everyone. This is not the case.
There were about 20 of us and we had taken possession of the Residence Inn for about 4 consecutive weeks. The core group that hung out together everyday after work and there were several others that fracture off and do their thing with another colleague or on their own. I drifted from one end to the other. When we all came together though it seemed like worlds collide and casualties are numerous.
Added note: I should also mention that this same team had been working together on this same project for the last three years.
What I noticed was the total lack of respect and loyalty among colleagues. It was almost soap opera worthy. Nothing was sacred. The back biting and the in-fighting was daily and the “liked ones” changed to the “disliked ones” and then back again on a dime. I had trouble keeping track so I just didn’t even bother anymore. But there are times you just have to take a stand.
At dinner one night one of the ladies started talking about another colleague that wasn’t present. She started telling all of us that this woman had just lost her house due to foreclosure. She wasn’t telling the story with the compassion it deserved, but more like “guess what I heard”. This was one of those times when me and one of my colleagues I spent the most time with drew the line. The only words out of her mouth were “Hey! That’s not a nice thing to tell and it’s also not *your* story to be telling.” I was in agreement and also voiced my disappointment.
I mean, WTF?
There was awkward silence during the salad course and eventually conversation resumed about other less gossipy subjects. Throughout dinner I still gave this woman some of my best stink-eye ever.
It never ceases to amaze me how certain folks can take the most inane tidbits and turn them into sagas to share and exploit. When did ripping apart someone else’s life and besmirching their reputation become okay? I sometimes wonder if I’m guilty of doing this too. I’m sure I have. I think now would be a great time to become wholly conscience of it and to mindfully correct it.
So, do you see the differences in the teams? It has always been an uneasy transition for me to make when going from one project to another and then back again. It feels like my perspective and my reality shifts. One week everyone has their shoulders thrown back and are proudly walking erect and the next week people are dragging their knuckles on the ground and thumping their chests.
I am a very direct person. I’m not saying it’s a quality, but it is a fact. Not everyone likes my directness because they know if they pull some crap with me it’s guaranteed that I’m going to call them out on it. Okay, still not saying it’s a quality, or even likable, but if you don’t wanna be called out, then don’t give me a reason to do it. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t come out of left field and side swipe you with a bat and I’m not a sniper. I don’t seek confrontations and I don’t like personal attacks. Jeez, who does? But if you walk all over me or someone I love, then expect to hear about it.
I ended up having a conversation with one of the women there about this. She wanted to know how it felt to tell people the truth and to be strong enough to say “that’s not true” instead of taking the easy way out and just going with the flow. I confessed that this is not always an easy thing to do. There are still times I drive myself crazy wondering why people are mean and duplicitous and I don’t say a word to them about it. But I’ve come to realize it doesn’t do me any good to give it so much space in my head. I say my piece when it’s appropriate and I move on. If I feel any residual guilt I try to work through it by talking with the handful of people I trust enough to discuss my thoughts with. I’ll be honest about that though, it’s not often I feel guilty about calling out someones bad behavior towards me.
That’s when I wonder if I’m guilty of besmirching someone. If I tell them to their face, is that wrong? And how come no one seems inclined to tell me to my face? Why is it so much easier for them to snicker and shit behind my back? Are they afraid of me? Or is it just the need to feel better about themselves by tearing someone else apart? If that’s the issue, then it would be impossible to do this to my face. People with that kind of need just don’t have balls to begin with.
Do I ever pay a toll for being direct? Yes, not often, but sometimes I do. Sometimes it comes at the great expense of losing a friendship or two.
Here’s a good lesson for everyone to remember; when your honesty changes the dynamics of a friendship for the worse, then that person was never really your friend at all.
One of my best chums used to tell people “if you ever want to know the truth, just ask her. She tells it like it is.” Telling it like it is doesn’t always make me Homecoming Queen. But I’m not in this world to be the most popular. I’m here to live the best life I can and to surround myself with comfort, beauty and love. I also like being able to see the whites of your eyes and know that what you’re saying to me is genuine. If you want to be a friend, you have to start acting like one. I enjoy quality people so I offer quality in return.
There’s this one saying I like a lot. It goes like this:
Great People talk about ideas
Average People talk about things
Small People talk about other people
Whether I’m out here working with a team of people or working on my own it seems I always have an opportunity to observe the human condition and build a new understanding of why I’m lucky enough to be a part of it all. Maybe I make a difference with my work or maybe I make a difference by being myself. Who really knows?
There are days when I do wonder though; Am I the Social Researcher? Or am I really just the subject of a social research project?