Homeadults with learning disabilitiesTolerating Bad Behavior At Work

“I make a compromise for the sake of insuring and protecting my income.” That’s a quote from the article, Why the deck is stacked against working-class feminists.

One of my few break-time escapes from a past
job.

I spent way too many years working in customer service, and have put up with my share of harassment.

Some of it has been downright weird, like the guy who said he was too old for me but he was willing to have his son marry me (what?), while others have been frightening, like the guy who left the dressing room without pants on and hovered over me as I swapped out merchandise on the sales floor (WHY?!). I’m still not sure why anyone would feel comfortable doing either of those things.

There’s a certain power dynamic between customers and service employees of any kind. Depending on the individual work environment and company culture, the wrong reaction to a customer could result in both job loss and a poor reference.

I’ve never felt comfortable with snapping at a customer, even when they’re way out of line, because I needed those jobs at the time.

My co-worker, who was also female, and I could at least tell the half naked guy to go put his pants on before we helped him, thanks to the “No pants, no shirt, no shoes=no service” rule, but we couldn’t yell back at him when he raised his voice.

In my case, there are added complications of LD and SPD.

I’ve always had trouble understanding people with low pitched voices, especially when there’s background noise all around us. That made a lot of customer interaction difficult, and although most people are understanding when they learn about the hearing difficulties, others are not.

Then, of course, there’s the poor word recall. It’s hard to laugh it off or even explain it when someone is yelling at you to “SPIT IT OUT”. Strangely enough, stress makes it even worse. There was no escaping when I had to work on phones, but at least retail had back room and stocking options to get out of stressful interactions.

Hearing difficulties are common enough that I can blame it on some sort of deficiency there, but the word recall issue is harder to explain, especially when the person you’re trying to explain it to has no patience. It’s very frustrating, and there’s little that can be done about it until there’s more widespread understanding.

Would I have tolerated that sort of behavior if I were in different situations? Absolutely not. When I’m trapped in a relatively powerless situation, though, there’s no choice.

There’s a stunning amount of guilt and disgust when you let those behaviors go unchecked. I’ve met several people who are all too happy to curse people who allow bad behavior in some situations but not others without thought to the situations at hand.

Their words and actions are often the ones that come back to haunt us when we have to let sexist, abelist or otherwise -ist behavior slide in order to pay our bills and put food in our kids’ bellies. Life isn’t as simple as certain elitists think it is.

One of the gifts my dyslexia has given me is the early discovery that I don’t have to let other people’s attitudes get to me. The only person’s opinion that matters at the end of the day is my own, and I have complete power over that.

I apply the principle to these situations. There’s no way I’m going to think less of myself for fighting tooth and nail to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, regardless of how utilitarian it may be. If I have to tuck my political beliefs away to get through the work day, like I did every day when working at a drug testing lab, I will.

It’s also important to note those jobs were all temporary, even if they didn’t feel like it at the time. Sure, I spent over five years at some of them, but they were never career makers.

Even as I was trapped in them, I only had to wear that mask until the end of my shift. My life wasn’t dedicated exclusively to representing those companies or the people who frequented them.

As with most things, stepping away from those who judge us is the healthiest thing to do. They won’t help us. The most they’ll do is tear us down when we need to be lifted up.

Even more important is the need to be gentle with ourselves when we’re under prolonged stress. Let yourself cry if you need to, and this goes for both women and men. Find help if you need to. Take the best care of yourself as you can. Keep fighting to better your circumstances, but try not to feel too bad if you’re too exhausted to make progress on a regular basis.

You can do it.

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