bert bert bert bert bert
For the rest of the day, my brain is stuck on Bert.
Is he the one spreading rumors about me? Why would anyone do this to a direct teammate? Aren’t we all supposed to get along?
As Hemlock, I considered the evidence:
Bert hung out with Cthulhu frequently. They occasionally had lunch together, and walked to their cars together, and sat next to one another in meetings. The more I thought about it, the more surprised I became that they weren’t constantly holding hands and necking in public.
So they were likely friends. And it follows that friends gossip about stuff that might be of use to one another. Bert would recognize that Cthulhu would find it very interesting to know that his guys were complaining about him during lunch. I realized the second-most vocal complainer was Statler, and he was the only other person who was getting this same kind of you-have-a-bad-attitude feedback in his 1:1s.
This didn’t explain the whole director thing, though. How or why would my director think I have a bad attitude, unless Bert told him? And why would Bert go a level above Cthulhu just to smear a teammate?
It came to me later in the afternoon while I was browsing emails in Outlook. I passed along an older memo detailing the promotion of some middle manager to VP level, and the light-bulb flickered on.
Cthulhu is seeking a promotion, and once that happens, someone else will need to lead the team.
Bert’s been at FinancialCompany for five years already and is eager to move up. He’s doing all of the right things — schmoozing, getting his styrofoam nose repainted in brown, and worrying more about perception and visibility than real work.
Still, why is he going after me?
Simple: I’d been the strongest technical performer on the team since the reorganization. It’s provable through our ticketing system, and openly acknowledged during our weekly team meetings. I’m assigned to the toughest problems, period.
From his perspective, I’m the primary competition for the management position that’ll open up after Cthulhu moves on. It’s therefore in his interest to weaken me. He’s like Tonya Harding clubbing Nancy Kerrigan’s ankle to clear the way to a skating medal.
Of course the last thing I want is to take Cthulhu’s job. I don’t even like the bit of management I currently have to do, being responsible for Consultants A&B.
But Bert didn’t know that.
The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that this is exactly what’s going on. In fact, I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.
Bert’s been evil all along. And he’s been spying on us.
It’s Friday, which is production release day. This is the time when everyone on Team Cthulhu deploys new applications and infrastructure into production, to upgrade apps and make them live. Everyone except Cthulhu himself, of course, who goes home at five like a normal demigod should.
Around eight, our releases are all done and the office is totally quiet.
I slip into Bert’s office and close the door. He’s finishing the paperwork for the changes that just went in. I stand behind him and, without any introduction or social grace to precede it, ask the question I need answered:
Bert, are you telling Cthulhu or anyone else that we complain about him?
His first response is to ask why I’d even ask that question.
Well, what I know for sure is that someone is. And I’m thinking maybe that someone is you.
He says no but won’t look at me. Now he’s shutting his computer down. I don’t think he finished his paperwork. I see lots of programs still open as he clicks the tabs to initiate the poweroff sequence; he’s trying to avoid me.
Look, Bert, if it’s you, it’s OK, I’m not going to be mad. I just need to know.
He repeats it’s not me. At this point he’s frantically shoving items into his laptop bag so he can get out of his office and avoid this conversation. I close the distance to the door and stand in front of it, blocking his exit, and push the conversation.
Tell me. I’m only going to ask one more time. I have to correct this issue or my job might be at stake. I’ll be the first person I’ve ever known to get fired over an attitude problem that they don’t have. Come on, is it you?
He asks why on earth I’d think it was him.
You seem to like him. And I complain about him in front of your face. At lunch today it seemed like you weren’t happy about this, and were trying to defend him.
He sighs and looks at his feet, shuffles them for a second before bringing his gaze back up to eye level. Then Bert says that I shouldn’t complain about my manager, ever. Because he’s my manager, and that’s reason enough for respect. We all report to him, plain and simple.
Is that an admission?
No, he says. He repeats that I simply shouldn’t be saying bad things about Cthulhu, and people notice when you complain.
Bert, who notices? You noticed, that’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?
Yes, he says. I noticed.
Respect is something that’s earned in my world. His mistreatment of the team makes it awfully difficult for me to look up to him.
Bert doesn’t agree. He says we must always adhere to the hierarchy. And then he adds something very interesting: “That’s how you move up.” (Note: He actually said this. Really.)
In a second, he’s confirmed 100% of my suspicions and I swing instantly from being nervous about our confrontation to being pissed. The volume of my voice gets raised to something significantly above acceptable levels for the office. What I mean is, I’m probably shouting at this point.
Call me a hopeless corporate romantic but I think teammates should trust each other, and be allowed to bitch about shit together. We’re supposedly comrades in the trenches, not tools to use to fuck each other over on our way to a promotion. I’ve always put the job first in my life, at a great personal cost. But just because I do that doesn’t mean I have to also put Cthulhu on a pedestal. In my world, my relationship with my manager has absolutely nothing to do with my actual job performance.
He says: I’m not screwing anyone. I’m just telling management the truth about what I’m hearing from other people on the team. If someone is bad-mouthing someone else, that person deserves to know.
Exactly. Which is why you should have told me you were bad mouthing me a long time ago. I deserved to know. So tell me, in your opinion, does anyone else deserve to know about what a management-hating asshole I am?
He says: Sure. Everyone at Cthulhu’s level and above in the management structure. Anyone who is responsible for you in any way should be aware that you are a problem.
I never understood the phrase “seeing red.” When I get pissed, I go nearly blind. I step away from the door to let him out and feel him walk past me from the movement of the air. As he’s walking away, I do this awful lame defeated supervillan-thing and monologue a bit, warning him to be careful and watch his back and I’ll get you next time and that sort of crap. I’m trying to follow him a bit so I can keep yelling at him for a while but I can’t see much and the hallways are fading to black on account of my levels of excitement and eventually I need to give up and sit down.
The last thing I shout down to him is, “SOMETIMES BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD SYSTEMS, ASSHAT.”
Pretty positive he hard that final bit.