Mixed Messages 4/9/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

By the time the captain (one of four) showed up to the meeting with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the meeting was wrapping up. It had basically devolved into that meaningless chit-chat that is so common at the end of meetings. Aside from myself, he was the only command staff member that showed up to the meeting at all. I was late, and missed about half of it, so I knew I didn’t have the full picture, but I picked up what I could. At the command staff meeting, the chief called on him to summarize the meeting since he was there, so he said exactly what he heard; he heard nothing important in the meeting.

Well, even having missed half of the meeting, I knew there was an important discussion of how people over a level of alcohol blood levels were getting free through a loophole in the procedures to ensure their safety. I was not a sworn officer, so it was alien to me having never been through the procedure myself, but I felt like I needed to speak up to summarize, as best as I could anyway, the main point of at least this part of the conversation. I think I intimidated the captain, who was well-established and had been with the department for many years. I didn’t mean to make him look bad, but wanted to at least fill in what I could of the meeting.

The next day, the chief called me into his office, where he informed me that I need to keep my comments to myself, and that failure to keep quiet at the command staff (of which I was a member) meetings, then he would fire me. I do have a habit of speaking at meetings. I admit my experience in the field of police work was not anywhere near that of the other members of the command staff, and I acknowledged that routinely, but my intention was never to be disruptive. Say what you will about me, though, I do follow orders. So, from that point forward, I was ornamental, looked pretty, and kept quiet, just as I had been told.

Some weeks later, the chief called me into his office again, and complained that I was not participating in the meetings. He went on to say that if I didn’t start talking at the meetings, then he would have to fire me. And there it was. In a matter of weeks, he gave me two completely contradictory commands. When I pointed this out, explaining his other order just a couple of weeks earlier, he shifted nervously, and stuttered something about knowing when to talk and when not to with no further advice. Sure enough, a few weeks later, I was let go.

Was it my fault? Maybe. On reflection, perhaps I followed his orders to a passive-aggressive level, but I honestly had no clue what would be considered an “appropriate” comment versus “inappropriate”. Management experts say that there are three reasons that an employee doesn’t do as they are told. First, they don’t understand what they were told to do. This means that the order was not clear to the employee. Second, they didn’t know how to do what they were told to do. This means they were not given appropriate instruction and/or training, or at least didn’t understand what was given. The third is that they’re just jerks. In other words, it’s pure belligerence. Of these three reasons, only one is truly the employee’s fault. The other two has fault that falls squarely on the shoulders of their supervisor.

This wasn’t out of the blue. I had had my troubles previously with the captain to whom I reported directly (a different one), some of which was my fault, but some of which was because of his management style, but these issues had been previously addressed and I thought were well behind me at that point, although they did resurface again when it suited their purpose.

Ultimately, I guess the point of this post is to tell my readers that, if you are struggling with work, take a moment to reflect on the root of this trouble. Did you find yourself in hot water because you didn’t understand what was expected of you (which had happened in several jobs over the course of my lifetime)? Was the source of trouble that you really weren’t trained properly? Or were you being belligerent? This exercise only works if you’re really honest with yourself. If necessary, solicit the opinion of others who you trust to give you honest feedback, and avoid reflecting in the heat of the moment. Really think about the issue. If you can get to the root of it, and if you still have your job (I do not), then it might help you to prevent future problems, either by being perfectly honest about not understanding the directions or feeling like you need more training, or just realizing that you need an attitude check. If, like me, you’ve been terminated, it might help to let go if it really was the fault of your manager, or keep future jobs if it was you.

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