If I Think It’s Always Everyone Else’s Fault, Maybe It’s Mine

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David Perlmutter writes in his Manage Your Career Column for the Chronicle (here; day passes available), “Admitting that a personal or personnel dispute is your fault is difficult—and near impossible for some people.”

He breaks down five prototypical situations that might benefit from a bit of self-reflection:

You have not paid your dues but act like you have. An assistant professor railed to his cohort of disgruntled juniors that a power block of senior scholars was thwarting him at every turn when all he wanted to do was to make “necessary” (and sweeping) revisions in the undergraduate curriculum. One of his friends, a particularly insightful tenure tracker, pointed out, “You’ve only been here two months and you want to change some major stuff; how do you think that comes off to people who’ve been here 20 years?”

If colleagues in your department are fighting you, it might be because you have not established credibility or shown that you have taken the time to thoroughly investigate a matter before preaching revolution.

The issue is not change itself, in many cases, but rather the manner and the timing of your advocacy.  * * *

You are overly suspicious. Even paranoids have enemies, or so the old saying goes. * * * Don’t assume malicious intent behind the unhelpful words and actions of someone when plain old incompetence or indifference are more likely sources.

You are acting selfishly. A department chair described a particularly ruthless approach to time management by one assistant professor who announced that she could not attend faculty meetings because they fell on her self-appointed “research days.”

You complain too much. * * * For junior faculty members, complaining to each other is a sine qua non of the tenure track. But there is a big difference between essentially good-natured airing of grievances over the occasional lunch and a nonstop barrage of negativity.

You are a jerk. Only once in my academic career have I come across someone who admitted, in so many words, that he was a bad person. * * * Self-awareness is not just a laudable character trait; it is an invaluable political skill. In the world of tenure and promotion, you are the crucial independent variable. Moreover, as you may have already learned, to your dismay, people who have a problem with something you are doing may never tell you why they are mad at you.

Self-diagnosis may be the only path to a solution. Are you arrogant and brusque with students? Overbearing to your teaching assistants? Conniving and back-stabbing to your colleagues because you enjoy playing the villain? There is no downside to brutal self-assessment, to seeking professional help when needed, or to avenging your own past suffering by helping others.

Ouch.  There’s lots of truth in there.

-Bridget Crawford


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