The manager who wanted me in the gallows

You know that first-day-on-the-first-job-ever feeling? The feeling like you should run everywhere you go, be careful what you say, and do everything you can to make a great first impression? That was 16 year-old me on my first day.

Fresh out of haying season, I went to work as a ‘yard manager’ (they said) for a predominantly union-based company. The plan was to work afternoons and days off when I didn’t have college classes on the schedule (I spent my junior and senior years attending a community college to fulfill the remainder of my formal education).

My new boss, Clyde (not his real name, of course) was too busy on day-one to show me around, so I was sent out to introduce myself to the shop guys. The guys in the shop were all nice enough, and although they were up to their chests in oil and grease, they took a minute to show me some of the tasks I would be doing.

The first task I was assigned to was organizing a rack of lumber and pipe (kind of like they have at Lowe’s or the lumber yard). When I began the project, it looked like the Jolly Green Giant had abandoned a game of Pick-Up-Sticks (it seemed to me that he must have been losing, and that’s not jolly at all). I went at it with vigor, shuffling and sorting and rearranging. Looking back, the guys in the shop probably just grabbed cups of coffee and watched the slender new kid -who’s too-big-for-him hardhat kept sliding onto his face- work like a banshee. I bet it was a good show, and I should’ve charged admission. I worked my way up the rack from the bottom, until I finally found myself on the top shelf which was about eight feet off the ground.

Before I go any further, you need to know a little more about the boss, Clyde. Ex-military and barrel chested, donning a fuzzy gray mustache, Clyde had come to work at the company only a few months before I did. He was hired on as a manager, and he seemed to have adapted well to his new position, strutting around managing operations.

So there I was, sweaty and smiling, sorting pipe like an old pro. Presently, I heard the sound of a Powerstroke fire up behind the office (I have a strange habit of trying to identify vehicles by their sounds. Don’t ask). As the green pickup rounded the corner, I glanced down and saw that it was Clyde who was in the driver’s seat. As he approached the rack I was on, he looked up and saw me waving at him. Evidently, waving wasn’t standard protocol, because it triggered something to make him slam on his brakes, roll down his window, and begin shouting: “Get down from there, dude! You know you gotta be tied off on any surface higher than four feet! In fact, when you get a rope, why don’t you just tie it around you neck?“. With that, the window rolled up and the diesel pickup belched black smoke as he rapidly made his way out of the driveway.

I was a bundle of emotions. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of what had just happened. My mind whirled, and the words he shouted kept pounding through my head. For a while, I blamed myself and wondered if I really was an idiot. Eventually, I had to come to grips with the fact that he must not know much about dealing with people, and I tried not to let it bother me for the rest of the day.

Looking back, I see a bunch of room for improvement on Clyde’s part, but I also see how I could’ve dealt with it differently. The reality is, even if the boss didn’t see it this way, I was a greenhorn. First day, first job… what more could we really expect? More importantly, I could have not beat myself up for it. Not let someone else’s poor attitude and method of communicating ruin my day. Through experiences like these, we all have come to realize that some people don’t see the world the way we do. Because of that, honing our people skills is a venture that will pay dividends.

Earl Nightingale, the great speaker and radio commentary once wrote this: “Everything in the world we want to do or get done, we must do with and through people.” To fine-tune our people skills, our ability to communicate effectively, and our willingness to listen can be viewed as an investment. And just as important is learning how to deal with our own issues, the way we embrace other’s attitudes, our ability to look at things objectively, and how we solve the people-problems we run into.

Think of an incident in your life where someone rubbed you the wrong way and try to look at it as an intelligent stranger would. Did you react or respond? What can you do differently next time, no matter who was in the wrong?

We’ll never be able to control our circumstances, but we do get to decide how we respond.

Have a story or a tip for the rest of us? Leave a comment below!

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