Or: “Why you need to be nice to people in Cape Town“.
This is a bit of a personal story, but there’s an important message in it (I think), so I’m going to bore you with it anyway.
A few months back, the company I worked for closed its doors “for operational reasons”, meaning that the people working for that company were summarily retrenched. Me included. It was not a pleasant time, as you might imagine and it was a particularly unpleasant process. This unpleasantness was due in no small part to the attitude of the people who employed us and the lawyer who they had hired to do the hatchet job.
Now, at this point, you can spring forth with all your “Did you really expect to meet a nice lawyer?” quotes and your perhaps more reasonable claims that I would say something like this because I’m being subjective and the matter was emotionally charged and of course I’m not going to like what’s going on, am I?
Do you want to get those things out of your systems now? I can wait.
Because I have met nice lawyers before: they don’t all conform to the stereotype in the same way that not all accountants are dull and grey and not all microbiologists are good-looking, witty ex-pat bloggers.
And while it was not a nice thing to happen, I accepted that a business decision had been made and we didn’t realistically have a huge amount (read “any”) chance of reversing things. So I did my homework, spoke to some (nice) lawyers I know and made sure I understood my rights in terms of the Labour Relations Act 1995 (section 189) and Basic Conditions of Employment Act 1997 (sections 35, 37 and 41). Fascinating stuff.
Given the situation, I chose to put emotions away and went in to the discussions with my new-found knowledge and my scientific logic as my sword and shield.
Sadly, the lawyer who turned up for the other side scored highly in every category of “typical” lawyer behaviour. On the personal side, I found him pompous, arrogant, aggressive, belittling and generally unpleasant. On the professional side, he sailed very close to the wind of illegality in his actions when going through the official processes. And then he made a verbal agreement on behalf of his clients which he later went back on. Which was nice.
Anyway, to cut a long story slightly shorter, we fought back and we won.
And that’s that. Except to say that then, out of the blue, his wedding photos popped up on my Facebook stream yesterday. Because while the entire world is apparently interconnected via the famous human web of Six Degrees of Separation, in Cape Town it’s generally about 1.2 Degrees of Separation. Friend of a friend happens here very regularly.
And that’s well worth remembering before you act like an arse.
Sure – I’m aware that there’s some parts of anyone’s job that aren’t easy and aren’t pleasant. But when you are dealing with people – especially upset, vulnerable people – while “just doing your job” and you act like you don’t give a damn, try to weasel your way out of promises you made and walk all over them, well that’s when you clearly cross the line from “professional” to “arse” for me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not asking you to care, I’m just asking you to make it less obvious that you really don’t.
Interestingly, seeing his those photos allowed me to put some pieces into my mental jigsaw and I realised that I had actually bumped into him “socially” a couple of weeks ago (through the same friend). My mind couldn’t quite work out who he was, seeing him out of context like that, but I didn’t introduce myself because there was this nagging doubt that I knew this person but I didn’t like him.
Now I know why. My mind is great and I have renewed respect for it.
So be nice, be respectful to people you meet: professionally, socially or even on the roads. Especially in Cape Town.
Because you will meet them again at some point and your previous actions could make that situation rather awkward.