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Conversations With Raymond

Conflicts

I called Raymond on Monday to ask if he and Christy could come to lunch the following Saturday.

When he answered the phone he sounded like he expected bad news.

"Oh, hi Regi," he said when he found out it was me. "Sorry to sound so gloomy."

"Why, whatever is the matter, Ray. Didn't have an argument with Christy, I hope."

"Oh no. Nothing like that. In fact if it weren't for her I probably wouldn't have a job."

"What do you mean? What's the problem? Can I help?"

"Thanks, Regi. There's nothing you can do. It's Harrington. He's being a total ass. Sorry!"

"Well if he's being an ass, then he is. No need to apologize, and you know you don't have to explain to me."

"I'd like to explain actually, but I don't want to burden you with my problems. Christy keeps asking me, "what's wrong," and I feel the same way with her. She has enough to handle as it is, she doesn't need the additional worry of my problem."

"Raymond, I completely understand, and like that attitude as well. But Christy and I aren't strangers, and I'm sure she doesn't like to see you worried. How about we do this? Bring Christy over sometime Saturday morning. If you want to, we'll talk over as much or as little as you like. At least we can get your mind on something else, perhaps."

"All right," he said a bit forlornly. I'll check with Christy. If she can come we'll just show up, is that OK?"

"Yes, yes, of course," I said. "See you Saturday."


It was raining Saturday, one of those very dark gloomy days that seem to drizzle endlessly. Ray and Christy arrived around ten thirty, and Ray looked as dark and gloomy as the day.

Christy was her usual bubbly self and I received the usual warm hug and kiss on the cheek. Nevertheless, even she seemed more reserved than usual.

I brought them both into the living room, because it is lighter and more comfortable. They sat together on the couch.

I know Roger well enough to know he would not begin a discussion about his problem, and I knew Christy would feel it wasn't her place to, but since I had no such compunctions, I decided to start it off.

"So what has that 'ass' Harrington done now?" I began.

I knew Bill Harrington slightly because he had been part of a development "team" assigned to a project I headed, the last I think before I retired. As far as I knew his work was adequate, but one always had impression his view of himself was far above the reality. He was now Raymond's manager.

Ray, himself, was the manager of the documentation department assigned to Bill Harrington's design group.

Raymond just looked at me.

"Tell him," Christy said.

"But..." Roger mumbled.

"But, nothing. Just tell him," Christy said firmly.

"Well, Regi, it's not anything you can do anything about. In fact it's not something I can do anything about either, and that's why it bothers me so much." I just looked interested. Christy looked interested too.

"Three weeks ago we had a big "coordination" meeting for a new project. It's a new product that's going to reduce the amount of bandwidth to transmit packets from four to ten times, and involves both software and hardware and of course documentation. The meeting was to set up all the interdepartmental contacts and preliminary schedules. That's where Harrington introduced a new policy. Documentation would no longer determine its own writing schedule, but would be, "coordinated interdepartmentally," he said. So I asked in the meeting what that meant, since I didn't have a clue. 'It means documentation will be completed in the same order as each piece of software and hardware is completed and will be reviewed by the appropriate department before final editing.'

"I knew how to work around all of that, of course. We always worked directly with the engineers and often have most of the documentation done before the design is done. Sometimes our preliminary documentation is used by the designers to determine how and where hardware, software, and human interfaces have to be designed, for example.

"The problem is, Harrington is a control freak. I found that out the first week after the project began. He came storming into my office demanding to know why Hargrow was writing packet sniffer documentation, which wasn't scheduled for another six weeks, and not documenting the packet squeezing algorithm being designed now. I explained that we already used packet sniffers in several designs and the one in this design would not be substantially different, but the squeezing algorithm was not even fully decided on yet, much less in a state that could be documented.

"That made him angry and he told me I was to provide a report to him every week specifying what each writer is working on and what they are scheduled to work on the following week. Furthermore I was to set deadlines for every writing project and they were to be coordinated with both software and hardware design.

"I told him I already had tentative deadlines for the entire project which I'd be glad to show him. 'Why are they tentative?' he demanded. 'Because they are tied to the design schedules which are all tentative,' I said. That did not make him happy either. He insisted I give him the weekly reports and that I 'stick to the schedules.'

"Now I could live with all that, because we never had problems meeting our schedules, and I could always work around the other things. But I cannot work around the next thing he pulled.

"Every day he picks one of my writers for an 'interview.' His interviews are nothing more than a way to pump my writers about me as their manager. Fortunately, all my writers like working for me, so all they need to do is tell the truth. I know they are, because Harrington looks angrier after every interview."

"Well he hasn't interviewed me yet, but if he does he'll get an earful." Christy said angrily.

Ray smiled appreciatively at Christy, and continued:

"I do not care if he questions my writers, but I do mind him interfering in their work. Twice so far, he has kept one of my writers from a meeting with an engineer he previously scheduled. Engineers have busy schedules and cannot stop what they are doing any time a writer would like. Then Monday he came storming into my office again and asked where Marilyn was. I told him she doesn't come in until one o'clock.

"'Well she either comes in at eight, like everyone else, or she'll have to find work elsewhere.' I didn't mention that almost none of the writers come in at eight. I just said, she has two children, and her husband doesn't get home 'til noontime. He just said her home situation was not his concern and that she had to be in at eight.

"I won't fire Marilyn. If he really wants her fired he'll have to do it, and I'll protest to personnel, though it won't do any good. He'll probably find some pretext for firing me as well, and that is what bothers me the most. My writers know me and trust me and they do really good work for me. I feel I ought to be able to do something, because doing nothing is deserting them, but I haven't any idea what to do."

Christy looked like she was growing angrier and angrier the whole time Ray was talking. When he finished she almost hissed the word, "bastard!"


Julie brought us coffee, and sensing the conversation was more serious than usual, after greeting Ray and Chris, she left.

"I just love Julie, Christy said."

"I do too, Christy, but don't tell her."

"I think she knows," Christy winked.

Then turning to Ray I asked, "What's the worst that could happen?"

"I suppose what I just said. Marilyn gets fired, then I get fired, then my poor writers get some by-the-book control freak for a manager, which none of them would be able to bear, or work under and they either get fired or quit."

"That might no be so bad," I said.

Raymond looked shocked. Christy looked wide-eyed.

I expected the reaction.

"I don't think that is what is going to happen, but if it does, all of your writers have great resumes and could easily get employment elsewhere. Perhaps not what they would exactly like, but at least good paying positions. It might be a little tougher for Marilyn, but there is no reason to suppose she won't find something she can manage.

"I think you've made a mistake, Ray. I fully understand why you believe it is somehow your responsibility to protect those writers that have earned your respect, but there is no moral obligation on your part to do for them what it is their own responsibility to do for themselves."

"You don't have to do anything for me, Ray," Christy said. "I can take care of myself, and I think the other writers can too." Then, more as talking to herself, she continued, "There might be advantage too ..."

Ray looked at her with one eyebrow raised, but she did not continue.

"Ray," I said, "why are you not concerned for yourself about being fired?"

"Well, I already know of two companies that would like to hire me. I always keep one or two irons in the fire."

"That is exactly what everyone who has a realistic view of life must do. If your writers have not done that, it is their fault, not yours."

Ray looked very serious, then said, "I know you're right Regi, but I really wish I could do something for my writers no matter what happens to me."

"Look," I said. "I might be able to help, if you are willing to let me. One thing you could do is to go over Harrington's head to his boss and tell him what is happening. If simply informing him of the situation does not work, tell him you resign."

Ray looked discourage. "If it were Jim Paulsen, I'd do it in a minute, but he was promoted to district VP last year. His replacement is the one who gave Harrington his current position."

"Then I think you have to find a better place of employment."

"I told you, I have no problem with that. It's my writers I'm worried about."

"I have only one suggestion then. For now, do nothing. Just be prepared for whatever happens. Tell Harrington he's not to interrupt your writers again, and tell your writers exactly what the situation is and what could happen.

"I have no idea what will happen, but you just do what you know is right. One thing you must not do is argue with Harrington. Be as polite as you can manage. Be careful not to insult him, but stand firm in your decision and take the consequences."

"What will that do?" Ray asked.

"I have no idea, I said. Well, I do know one thing it will do. It will preserve your sense of integrity, because you'll be doing the right thing. I know one other thing it will do, it will give me a little time to check something out."

"Have any thoughts, Christy?" I asked.

"Besides hiring a hit man to off Harrington, not really. I know I, and the other writers, will back Ray up. I'm going to brush up my resume. No matter what happens, I'm not sure I want to work on anything Harrington has anything to do with."

Ray looked at Christy with a questioning look. He didn't say anything, but Christy saw the look.

"I'll tell you later, Honey," she said with an adoring smile.

I don't think Ray was happy with that, but looked resigned to it.

It was at the moment that Julie looked in the doorway. "If you all are finished solving the problems of the world, there is lunch in the dining room."

"Perfect timing, Julie," I said.

As we were heading for the dining room I noticed Ray was smiling, I think for the first time that day.


There was no more conversation about Ray's problem during lunch. Julie and Christy had fun teasing me about love.

"Speaking of love, Christy, has Ray proposed yet?"

"It's really none of your business," Ray said.

"I wasn't talking to you, Ray, I was talking to Christy about you."

"No he hasn't," Christy said.

"Julie, has Raymond proposed to you?"

"Mr. Firehammer!" Julie said with mock indignation.

"You mean you haven't proposed to anyone? Ray. What kind of a manager are you?"

"What's that got to do with being a manager?" Ray demanded.

"Ahhh," I said. "A good manager never let's a good opportunity go by."

"I know why he hasn't proposed, Regi," Christy said. "He's afraid of what my answer will be."

"Good," I said. "Don't tell us. Just keep him in suspense. We'll test his courage."

It went like that a little longer, until I finally shoved them out the door with a promise to call them in a day or two. It had finally stopped raining.


As it turned out I didn't have to do anything. Ray called the next afternoon. He did speak to Harrington's boss, who turned out to be much better than Ray thought. He was an old school manager, and when he heard what Harrington was doing, he immediately replaced him with one of the design managers, one Ray was used to working with. Ray didn't tell me what had actually happened to Harrington, but it really didn't matter.

His other news was the real surprise. Christy had given notice. She had already been looking and took a job managing her own small writing group with another electronics company.

"I wasn't happy about it at first, but Christy is right." Ray said. "It was beginning to become awkward since we've become so close, working in the same department. We won't see each other at work, but that's probably better for both of us, and we'll still see each other all we can."

I was very impressed with Christy.

—(02/29/16)