Friday, December 21, 2012

Torturing your Torturers: Success is the best revenge (and torture)

We've all had managers or bosses who we don't get along with. It's a fact of life. Sometimes you get a perfectly good job that you like, and your manager moves on to a new job or a different position in the company, and the person who takes over the job of being your boss just doesn't like how anything works, and decides to blame it on you and your fellow team members not working hard enough. Or, perhaps they take a deep, personal dislike for you for a reason that cannot be summed up in a way that Human Resources would agree with.

I've had many jobs like that, and have come to expect these situations, so I've developed a strategy that works for me. I love torturing people. No, I don't mean it like that -- I don't get out the whips and car batteries, then tie people down to chairs and electrocute their nipples, or anything like that. I like to torture my torturers by depriving them of the sense that I'm feeling any pain or pressure from the shitty task that they have constructed to punish me.

Ever see Casino Royale with Daniel Craig as James Bond? There's a scene where he's being tortured by the one-eyed villain. "To the left... To the left" he says, as his torturer whacks bond in the nuts. The Villain gets angrier with each comment from Bond. I often dream about being that kind of person -- someone who can really torture the person who is supposed to be doing the torturing, by denying them the satisfaction they seek, such as answers, power, or hearing you beg for mercy.

People who love to torture others have something in common -- they get off on inflicting pain or feeling that they have total control over the mind of another person. For most would-be torturers, who obviously don't live in their fantasy world of a dictatorship or Orwellian dystopia, they have to settle for less grandiose forms of achieving their pleasure. At a 9-5 job, they only have a few limited options for torture. They can either issue constant threats to people, sewing the seeds of paranoia, making people constantly on edge about possibly losing their job, Become sticklers for rules, holding everyone under them accountable, for example, for following the official dress-code guidelines of the HR manual (Or maybe they only hold YOU accountable, while everyone else gets to dress as they want). Other times, they use unpleasant tasks to torture you; a time-consuming and monotonous task that will bog you down for hours, and bore you to death, or perhaps they have set you up for (what they think will be) failure.

Their pleasure comes from feeling that they can break you. They want to control you, fill you full of resentment, set you up for failure, or find an excuse to write you up when HR tells them that they have to follow rules about what they can write you up about. They think that if you don't want to get shitty tasks, or be on probation for months on end, never being eligible for a raise, that you'll just learn to do what they say.

As many who know me are probably saying after reading this far, that's not what I do! So I hate when people who have power abuse that power for their own selfish gain. I don't like taking crap from them, and if they contradict themselves while trying to chew me out, I sit there with a smirk on my face, and I call them out. I know my rights most of the time, and when a Boss tells me something that I know is forbidden in the HR manual, I call them on it. I say "Uh, I'm pretty sure HR would like to hear about that, because I'm pretty sure that is against policy..." As a result of my defiance and knowledge of the rules, I have had a lot of jobs where I have been punished with perfectly legal, HR-compliant, tasks by people who have made the mistake of thinking that they could control me or out-wit me.

Some people might say that I've had way too many jobs like that.

One thing you need to realize about most torture tasks at work, is that they are considered torture because they are not organized, result from years of neglected work, are poorly documented, or were set up hastily, without much thought given to optimizing or improving it.

The solution is simple -- OWN YOUR TORTURE. By taking possession of your torture, you can deprive your torturer of what they want the most -- an excuse to call you a failure, or to criticize your allegedly poor working habits. By owning your torture, you can own your torturer!

Case and point #1: Don't give what they ask for -- give them MORE!

I was working as a tech support person at one company, and a new guy named Mark with lots of ambition signed up for the first open manager position that came up -- he was a fellow technician no different from me, then he literally became my boss when our old Boss moved on, and his position became vacant. Mark turned into a dick immediately. To this day, I still don't know what he had against me, but apparently I wasn't the only one who thought that he suddenly became a dick.

One day, we had a ticket come into the helpdesk. There were 5 people on the helpdesk, and we all failed to see the ticket and respond to it in time. Our software at the time did not auto-update, and we had to manually refresh the screen. We were all off taking care of tickets, and the call just sat in the queue all day, until someone asked why it's taking so long to get someone over to fix it. So Mark confronted me in the data center (not in his office in a formal setting) and tried to blame me for the lack of response. I told him there were 5 of us on the helpdesk, and that it's inappropriate for him to make me take the blame; he needed to address the team as a whole. But he kept going on about how I've been here the longest, and such. I disagreed. He really needed to have the group meet and develop a strategy for us to follow to prevent this from happening again. I told him that I'm not going to listen any more, unless he had a group meeting, so that everyone on the helpdesk would be on the same page, and I walked out on him. He didn't like that, so...

The next day, Mark gave me what seemed to be an impossible task. I was to catalog all of the software that we owned. We had drawer after drawer full of software, discs, and manuals, all random and disorganized. It was a mountain of work that I knew was going to be repetitive, boring, and pointless. I knew that this was torture-work, so I immediately thought about what I would do if I were Mark, and wanted to make this worse for me. I thought -- he'd probably want to make me do all sorts of work, only to make me have to do it all over again, by asking, say, to put it all in a database. Then I might want to add to the torture by suggesting that yet another field be added to the database, forcing me to go through it all over again.

I thought to myself of how many things I could possibly add to this that would make me have to do all the work all over again, and I cooked up a plan. I would not only organize the software by title, I would put fields in the data base that listed the title, version number, the number of licenses we had left, the year it came out, and on and on. I put everything in order in the drawers, and numbered it so that we could look it up in the database, find the number, and just go to the correct drawer. Mark only expected me to put it all in order in the drawers, and write down what we had.

First of all, he didn't expect me to finish it in the 1 week time-frame that he arbitrarily picked. I finished it in 3 days. So when the deadline came, he asked me if I was done, I said yes, and handed him a printout that had the software titles and number of copies. I didn't mention anything about the database with all the other information; I was going to wait to see if I had guessed correctly about what he would try. When I showed him the completed printout of everything, and how organized the drawers were, he was not pleased. He was actually annoyed, I could see it in his face, but he couldn't really put me down or criticize it. He was even more pissed the next day, when he told me that he wanted me to put all the info into a database, along with version numbers, and some other stuff, and I said "Already done!" I explained to him that I not only put in fields for what he asked, but also several other things, as well, and even better, I made it available to everyone by putting it on one of our network drives. OWNED!

A couple of weeks later, Mark started accusing me of spending too much time goofing off and using the internet. I could see what he was going to do a mile away. I started documenting everything I did -- trips I made from my desk to other people's desks to fix things, how long it took, what was done. I made sure that pretty much every minute of my day for several weeks was accounted for, and better yet, was written into each of the tickets I closed. I collected printouts of the surveys from the tickets I did -- an automated email that users got when we closed a ticket, asking them how we performed. I even started documenting anything he said to me. When my pay review came up, and he had to justify not recommending me for a raise to his superior, I came in with a giant printout of 50 or more pages of what I did, and things that he told me to do. When Mark explained to our boss the reasons for not recommending a raise, his reasons were so generalized that I realized that he was less prepared than I thought. He had no specifics. He accused me of pissing off the people whose computers I fixed. I asked "like who? Do you have any specific incidents you can point out, because this is the first time I've heard anything like that!" I showed our manager the printout of the ticket surveys that everyone has to fill out after I do work for them. There wasn't one negative comment in the surveys. I looked at my boss, and said "Don't you think if any of these people had a bad experience with me that it would reflect in these post-job surveys? He accused me of spending too much time on the internet, and as an example, he said that one time, he saw me on a site that was not work-related. I asked "What site?", and he didn't remember. The meeting made him look really bad, and he was grasping at straws. Owned! I got the raise. Mark soon left for another job.

Case and Point #2: Move a Mountain.

At a different job, in a different state, Jan was this nasty-ass bitchy woman who suddenly became my boss when our old one retired. She let everyone know well ahead of time that she considered the job of being the manager of the helpdesk I worked at to be a "stepping stone" to management; She made sure that all of her friends and co-workers knew that all anyone had to do was stay in that position for 6 months, then take the first upper-level management job that came along. So when she became our boss, we knew that the ambitious Jan was going to be there only about 6 months before moving up.

One thing I need to say flat out -- I spend a lot of time on the internet, and I consider it part of the job. I'm either looking up technical documentation, troubleshooting information, or checking compatability issues. She thought that I was really lazy, but the sad truth was that I was the guy doing most of the work. Several of my co-workers were really lazy, and just read the newspapers all day in their cubicles. But they were old, and near retirement, so I didn't really criticize that. The other, younger team members, and myself all were constantly moving around, going from ticket to ticket, getting things fixed. At the end of the day, with all the tickets I closed, it was hard to say I wasn't working hard enough, especially compared to the rest of the team. Jan didn't like my politics. I was a liberal atheist, and she was a conservative fundy (and crazy, to boot). Obviously, I had to be put in my place.

She started off by keeping me on my probation period. When hired, everyone has 6 months of probation, and after that, you are either permanantly hired, or they tell you to start looking for a new job. I was on probation for 6 months, then my boss retired before my probation period ended, then we spent about 6 months without a manager. When Jan started, she argued that it was not fair for her to give me a passing grade on probation, because I had not worked under her. So she got my probation extended another 6 months. We later joked that it was "triple-threat-probation".

Without any incident or confrontation, Jan gave me this seemingly impossible tasks to perform. We had 2 closets full of junk -- old PCs, monitors, and printers that were literally just piled ceiling-high in these closets. I had to clean them out, and fit both closets of equipment into just one room, so that a new manager could have one of the closets as an office. It was basically a heavy lifting job. On top of that, She had a time limit, and I could not let this task slow me down from my usual tickets. Great, so I have to get this mammoth task done without letting it cut down my tickets. When I brought her to reality by telling her that nobody could accomplish that without taking time out of their schedule to focus on that, she conceded, and said I could use a 2-hour block of time each day, but that I might have to shorten my lunch and break time to compensate (legally, she couldn't order me to do that, but she suggested it as an option).

I thought for a few minutes about the potential for this to be another torture session where she wants to make me fail, and I came up with a plan.

Not only did I organize all of the junk in the rooms, but I got shelving installed in the rooms, and put everything on shelves. I separated working equipment from broken equipment, and sent the broken equipment to be disposed of. I cataloged every single serial number on every computer and monitor that I touched. I made a database of all of it, which could be used to set up loaner PCs for people whose PCs were dead, and who needed an immediate loaner to use while their PC is repaired. When it came time to report to Jan, I just gave her and her manager a tour, and showed off everything to them. Her manager was impressed, and Jan was pissed off.

I did get some other shit work from Jan, but none of it really seemed like much, because by the time I organized all the junk equipment, I had really created a system that helped out a lot. We had a whole fleet of loaners that could instantly be deployed when needed. In the end, Jan called me into a meeting with a guy whom I thought was her "chum", who was going to double- team me or something. Bryant was the guy's name. He started off by saying "Dave, we have watched you here for the last year and a half, and we have noticed a pattern in your work habits that needs to be addressed..."

"Oh, great, here we go..." I thought to myself.

Bryant Continued "You do a lot of really hard work around here, and we just wanted to tell you that we appreciate it!", as he smiled, and handed me an envelope that said "in appreciation" on it in gold lettering.

I was given a reward! See, Jan's "chum" was actually embarrassed at the way she treated me, and he shamed her into realizing what she did -- punish a good worker who did a lot of good things for a petty reason. I was given a $200 gift certificate to spend as I wished, and told that I did a good job. No Apologies, though. Bryant, was actually a very fair guy, and would go on to become a trusted co-worker. He had a great sense of humor. I was suspicious of the gift certificate, so I went to HR, and they confirmed that it was legit. I waited several months before spending it, thinking it might be a trick!

Case and Point #3: Blackberry Torture

My favorite time torturing my torturer was when I worked at a help desk for a financial institution. I had a boss named Suzanne, who really was a nasty piece of work. She would call me into her office so she could complain about stuff I allegedly did. I would always ask her "Did I break any company rules? Did I violate any policies? Did I do anything that you can actually report to HR about?" Bosses hate those kinds of questions, in the same way that arrogant "super cop wannabe" police officers hate people who actually know the law better than they do and can quote from it. So naturally, when your boss hears you quoting from the Employee handbook after they chew you out for doing something that isn't an offense by anything in the book, they know they will have to play hardball.

So Suzanne found an excuse to punish me. An exec whom I did a ticket for complained about something I wrote in an email. It was obvious that the exec read a lot into the email that wasn't there. Essentially they thought it was rude of me to confuse their name with another (lesser) person, who had the same first name, and very similar last name (like McDonald Versus McDonough), so she complained to Suzanne, and Suzanne made it sound like I insulted the person. Any reasonable person could read the email and see that this exec was just pissed off that I didn't know who they were from some low level worker, neither of whom I ever met before. So Suzanne insisted I needed to be punished. The Punishment was to be given Blackberry duty.

The Blackberries where this job was, were not organized, documented, and didn't have any actual procedures laid out. It was a job that had been a bargaining chip between telecom, IT, and other departments for years, and it ended up at the helpdesk. Never mind that to take care of Blackberries, you needed contact phone numbers from phone company tech support, access to our service contract with RIM, the company that makes and supports Blackberries, and lots of network privileges. We had to figure that all out without any documentation. When I first got the task of taking care of Blackberry support, I knew why people hated it. Everyone was given the job at some point AS A PUNISHMENT. It was never considered to be a vital function of IT, and therefore, nobody tried to organize it into something... Until I got my hands on it.

I took a quick look at what I was given. I had 5 minutes of training from the previous victim of Blackberry support, and a folder full of documentation. Right off, I found that one thing that was sorely missing was a spreadsheet that had all of the phones we owned, and what their phone numbers were. Luckily, the Blackberry server lets you generate such a list in seconds, so I created the spreadsheet, and every time I got a ticket for a blackberry, I either checked or updated the spreadsheet. I spent a lot of time writing documentation and procedures for doing everything. I organized all of the information into a folder on a shared drive, and even started working on a support web page that could be called up from anyone's desk, if I was visiting a person's office. All of the phone numbers to RIM, Verizon, AT&T, and other Phone companies were one a single page tacked to my cubicle wall, along with our account numbers, so that when I had to call them, all of the info was right in front of me.

I even took all the broken blackberries we had, and mixed and matched parts so that some of the broken ones could be salvaged. At the time, there were only a few models, and the parts, like the screens and keyboards, were interchangeable. I had all of the software needed to support them from the ground up, and to tackle nearly any situation. Best of all, I drew up all the procedures and made sure that whoever inherited this from me would not be left in the dark. I actually ended up liking this job, and became really good at it. I let my boss know how much I enjoyed this position by smiling while I talked to users, and telling people how much I liked it. The word got back to Suzanne, and she was not amused. She was thinking of taking the job away from me, but thought that I was pretending to like it so that she would take it away, so she kept me doing it. Eventually, she moved to a different position, and my new manager was an actual helpdesk professional who actually wanted to improve the helpdesk, and he saw what I did, and I got involved in more documentation and procedures, which looked really good on my resume.

Interestingly, the company saw hard times due to the Housing market collapse of 2007. I was laid off in the first of several mass lay-offs. I was one of the lucky ones. We got severance packages, and I pocketed about $3000, which I never had to use, because I had a new job within 2 days. Suzanne was one of the last people laid off, and she got jack shit.