Benign Neglect

Some embarrassing facts about me:

I was once awarded Most Conscientious Cheerleader, for always having an extra pair of whatever in my bag to loan other cheerleaders

I’ve won all kinds of good citizen and perfect attendance awards

I’m the person most likely to be left in charge when the teacher leaves the room

My first grade teacher had me read stories to the class at story time, just to keep me busy

I’m not someone who needs to be told what to do to be successful, in most situations. I’m an honor roll-y, hyper-responsible good citizen. I’m not perfect— I tend to run late and I get grumpy if you point out ways in which I’ve failed to exceed expectations at every turn, among other failings; but if you’re an authority figure, I’m pretty much the definition of low-maintenance.

This totally has its good points. One of my prime motivations in life is not to be micromanaged. And people tend not to micromanage me, because there’s no point. If you look over my shoulder, I tend to slow down, get distracted and do a worse job. If you mostly let me be, I’m mostly going to over-deliver for you.

The down-side is that I fall victim to a phenomenon I call benign neglect. All through elementary and middle school, the teacher seldom talked to me, because I didn’t need help with the assignment and I wasn’t acting up. Which is okay. But it doesn’t make for a great learning experience or a stimulating learning environment, for me. I ended up in a smaller high school where they actually challenged me, and I came to see the difference between putting in time and learning. I chose colleges and post-graduate experiences along that line, and have chosen to work on smaller teams. I’ve faced benign neglect in the work-place, and it drives me a little batty. I don’t want to be micromanaged, but it’s not bad to be seen, if you’d like to advance. Bosses tend to blow off meetings with me because I don’t need help and I don’t need to be told to do my job, and, left to my own devices, I mostly work it out in ways that make them look good. And then I get an undeserved reputation for not playing well with others, or end up with bosses who don’t really understand what I do, they’re just glad that I don’t bug them more often than I do.

I used to be grateful not to be the squeaky wheel. Now, it makes me angry that I’m a corner that gets habitually cut. If it meant that I got positive attention for my contributions, I wouldn’t complain, but that’s not how it tends to work out. And it’s frustrating.

I’ve tried proactively addressing it— my agenda has been “here’s what I’ve done for you lately.” People tend to be nice, respectful, tolerant of that conversation, but it doesn’t really work that well. I feel like I get asked to do more with less than your average person, and because I actually do pretty well in that situation, there’s no negative consequence for anyone but me.

I’m not really sure what I’d like you to do with this information. Maybe, if you find that you have a perpetually reliable, non-squeaky wheel in your life, don’t ignore them. And sure, you can borrow my extra pair of socks, just make sure I get them back clean before the next game.


One thought on “Benign Neglect

  1. I’m reading this after learning, essentially, that pretty much everyone in my department has gotten some sort of promotion/title upgrade/BS crap, except me, who is pretty much in this category… i don’t even get to go to staff meetings because they usually don’t plan them enough in advance for me to find someone to cover the front desk so I can be there. I just…


    This sounds so much like me. It’s so and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to survive long enough to get out of my department, where there’s no place for me to advance to, and,most the time they can’t be bothered to remember I exist *except* when they have to pick up the pieces of all the stuff I do for everyone.

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