TIP OF THE DAY: DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!
a White coworker, who you’ve never or have rarely worked with, suddenly swoops into your office and DEMANDS that you perform some task for them.
You look at the person and think to yourself, “No this b*tch or b*stard didn’t just come in here barking orders at me!”
I can remember a really funny incident, where a fresh out of college, young, White woman came into my office on her second or third day of work. I’d already been with the company for about 6 years. She had some papers in her hand as she walked into my office and told me what she “needed me to do.”
So, I just let her talk and talk and talk and talk. And, then I asked…
“Who are you?”
And, her face went blank.
I was introduced to her the day before, which she remembered, so she was pissed. But, I continued to pretend that I simply couldn’t remember her. She had no choice but to reintroduce herself. When she finished, I asked…
“And, what do you need?”
I’d already let her explain it to me at length, when she came into my office. But, I made her start again…from scratch. She was mad about repeating herself, but that was fine with me. There were quick lessons I needed to teach her about professionalism and courtesy. The next step in the lesson was informing her, “I can’t help you. That work is performed by the administrative assistant. This is how the process works. You need to see [Name] to get that paperwork started or you can pick up the paperwork yourself in the copy room over to the left. Once you get that filled out and signed by a manager, you send it over to Accounting for processing. It will not be processed today and maybe not even tomorrow. You need to discuss the timing with Accounting.”
And, I looked down and went right back to what I was doing. As far as I was concerned, she could stand there all day and all night watching me ignore her.
Why did I behave this way?
Because this little White chick (yes, that’s what I’m going to call her) thought that a Black person—senior to her—should be filling out her paperwork. She was junior to me and if anything would be filling out MY paperwork—not the other way around. I can tell you right now that NO ONE in the office told her that I did the administrative tasks for our department. Yet, she walked right past the White Administrative Assistant’s office to ask me to fill out her forms.
I can tell you what happened. When she was introduced to me, she didn’t think it was important to remember who I was and what work I performed. So, when someone pointed her over to the administrative assistant’s office, she made the wrong judgment that I was the A.A. You see, the A.A. and I sat right next to each other in interior offices. Hallways ran parallel to both of our offices. So, we were the only two employees sitting in that section. So, when the little White chick was told to see the A.A., the little White chick guessed wrong! Yes, I recreated the scene of the crime. And, I found out that she was directed to the A.A., but ended up trying to order me around. Just as an FYI, the little White chick was always extremely polite and professional with me after that time. She would knock on my door and smile and ask if I had a moment to speak to her, etc. That is professional behavior!
But, her previous behavior and attitude with me is not uncommon for some Whites in the workplace. You will have some White staff knowingly and unknowingly attempt to puff out their chests and order Black workers around. These people can be senior, counterparts or junior staff. It doesn’t matter. For some reason, when some White people have the opportunity to WORK WITH Black employees, they take it as an opportunity to BULLY or ABUSE or to be RUDE to Black employees.
So, here are some tips for dealing with someone making sudden demands of you, without your supervisor having first told you that you would be working with this individual:
Tip #1: Ask the worker to tell you who they and what department they work in! Some White people will walk into your office and start demanding you do things for them—all with the assumption that you know who they hell they are! To use some broken English, more than half the White folks acting this way at work “ain’t nobody!” And, you heard it here! If you don’t know the person from Jack, ask questions!
Tip #2: Ask the worker if they’ve spoken to your supervisor and received approval for you to work WITH THEM (not for them)! Some people will bypass a supervisor and just start barking orders. Don’t accept this. Make sure the person has followed office protocol and gotten supervisor approval.
Tip #3: Don’t believe a word they said! Ask your supervisor if the assignment/task was approved.
Tip #4: Also find out—from your supervisor—what you are SPECIFICALLY supposed to do. People will make stuff up and will ask others to do more work than they have been authorized to perform. It’s called pawning off your tasks on other staff, especially those viewed/perceived as inferior. So, always find out what you should and should not be doing, as well as what authority this individual will have over you—if any! Are you supposed to jump, when they say “Jump!”?
Just because someone approaches you with an air of authority doesn’t mean they have any authority within the company or, more importantly, OVER YOU!! Don’t assume that a person is authorized to give you orders simply because they’re White! Unfortunately, some Whites don’t like to have their authority or so-called authority or perceived authority questioned or challenged by someone Black. But, that’s their issue. So, don’t make it yours.
It’s your job to follow protocol and to know that you are performing pre-approved assignments. Don’t just go running around based on a request that your supervisor may have declined or may not know about. Ultimately, you will take the blame. Do you really think the person that demanded you to work for them will accept responsibilities for any issues that come up? Don’t assume they will.
Cover you a$%, ask questions, and get approval.
But, more importantly, demand the respect you deserve as a human being and employee. It’s always okay to tell someone that you work better, faster, and more productively—when you’re not being yelled at or demeaned. As long as you convey this message in a professional manner, how the person responds is up to them! But, you’ve stated that you won’t be bullied or degraded. You can always follow that up with a formal complaint, if you have to!