Finding and Claiming my Space

I feel like I have been conditioned through my life to consider and recognize how every one of my actions has the potential to affect others. And that those others may not be interested in being affected. Whether they reply with a nasty comment or a look or the energy between us in our relationship just changes, I have affected them, and not necessarily in a good way. This situation can be paralyzing and ultimately has had what I believe is a detrimental affect on my career.

At my job, I am considered an expert at a lot of technical aspects, I love to be helpful and I pride myself on my customer service. I prioritize others’ needs and time and generally avoid asking for tasks to be taken off my plate. This is partly due to the aforementioned conditioning, but also because I believe that I can generally complete the tasks more quickly than someone else would anyway. The most consistent point of feedback I get is general, vague statements, funneled through management, that someone overheard something I said that they either thought was rude or detrimental to the team in some way. “Interpersonal skills” could use work, they say. Do they not see or understand how much I do for others already?

All of this put together makes me constantly question my own skills and abilities, especially when it comes to communication. If I have something to say, what format does that message need to take? Who is the appropriate audience? If too small, what will someone feel about being added later to the email string? Most people seem to prefer to talk about complex topics over the phone, but I do much better with written communication. So is it still OK to write an email in that case? Now we have Teams for intra-company communication, but not everyone seems to use it. We have created a number of channels that nobody seems to use, which causes me to question whether they should exist or whether I am allowed to use them. My extremely logical nature and desire to not cause negative effect on others make me wonder.

This week, we had a live web event hosted by the DE&I Council, of which I am a part, and I wanted to send another reminder to my team. I wrote this at least 4 times, in different channels/formats before I decided that I had the right to do so, and it was an appropriate use of the communication channel to send to my whole department. This episode took entirely too much of my time and caused an undue rise in my anxiety levels. When I finally sent my brief reminder, I spent another bit of time waiting to get some form of negative feedback, telling me (privately) that my choice was not great, could have been better or was in some other way inappropriate in audience, message or scope. This is what has resulted from those years of experience.

Of course in this instance, none of those negative repercussions occurred; I even received some positive feedback. Perhaps over time, I will end up feeling more comfortable with commanding others’ attention with my words. At some point, I will have to reframe my experiences. If I do communicate with good intentions, it is a good thing BECAUSE I did it, rather than waiting to find out if my action was good or bad in someone else’s mind. This is what I get for being so connected to the external, so affected by others around me and so passionate about doing the right thing every time, being the best I can be and seeking feedback in my efforts to constantly improve myself.

At some point, I will have to become comfortable staking a claim to some space, space that could be allocated to others, to insert myself and my work into the ether (more than just this blog, which could never really be described as intrusive). I need to be able to justify my right to exist, in my own way, and interact in the way that feels authentic to me. This is a long time coming and the transition will be fraught. I expect any resistance will cause a well-practiced pattern of moving away. I really don’t want to have to fight; my inclination is not to compete for space. But space should exist for those of us who need it, who will care for and make good use of it. Every human should have the right to their own space, physical or virtual.

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