Signs of Status – #1LinerWeds

When I read April Munday’s post about the signs of status in the middle ages, I wasn’t really surprised to learn that laws once governed what people could wear. April mentioned that “status was everything” and in so many ways, this hasn’t changed. We may not have laws, but we have business practices in every market that are designed to reward to people with so-called status – i.e. the people who spend more money with a particular airline, hotel, restaurant, etc. Our world is still very much about status. April’s post did bring back an interesting encounter from the early days of my career.

I was a manager in the consulting practice of then Peat, Marwick, Mitchel & Co. (now KPMG), and I was assigned the task of reviewing security and controls in place at various company data centers. The thought being that if our firm’s auditors were going to rely on computer generated reports, we had to know if the reports were trustworthy. In some cases, I conducted the review myself, in a matter of hours. At the other extreme, I managed a team of professionals who spend months crawling through every operational aspect of a giant data center.

If we found something bad, we made recommendations. If we were lucky, the client might engage us (that’s how we spoke) to remedy the situation. If we found something really bad, we had to work to verify that there weren’t “mitigating controls” in place, before we issued a recommendation that could impact the comfort of the audit team. One such really bad thing was found at one of the large insurance companies under review.

In our effort to flesh out this finding, people were added to the team, and we worked into the evenings and throughout the weekend. No one was happy – not me, not my team and certainly not the employees who had to work on Saturday while we looked for those mitigating controls. One of those employees was offended by the way a member of my team spoke about the system he was reviewing.

On Monday, I was summoned to the office of Mr. X to discuss this great offense. In my opinion, it was a minor misunderstanding. A remark was made, but it was not personal, sexist, racist or even targeted at a person. My team member had offended an automated process. Still, the process had been developed by a human and that human was offended. That human complained to Mr. X and Mr. X wanted his pound of flesh – my flesh.

I apologized for the remark. I offered to have the employee apologize to the offended person. There wasn’t much more I could do. Mr. X wanted more. He thanked me for addressing the matter, but said:

I’d like to say that I accept your apology and we can leave it at that, but I’m afraid I can’t let it end here. I need to speak to your supervisor.”

I called the Audit Manager. He wasn’t really my supervisor, but he was my point of contact. After I informed him of the situation, he asked me to answer a few questions before handing Mr. X the phone:

“Are you in his office?”

“Yes.”

“Does he have a desk lamp with a rectangular brass shade?”

“No.”

“Does the lamp have a green finish and two bulbs with fabric shades?”

“No.”

“Does he have a walnut and brass two-level inbox?”

“No.”

“He’s a nobody, put him on.”

During his conversation, the Audit Manager dropped the name of a person several levels above Mr. X in the organization. He offered to have that person look into this matter. Mr. X decided to accept my apology.

I’m not generally a fan of status and certainly not a fan of people who treat people differently based on real or perceived status. On the other hand, I really don’t like bullies, so…


This post is part of Linda G. Hill’s fun weekly series One-Liner Wednesday. If you have a one-liner, I’d encourage you to join in on the fun. You can follow this link to participate and to see the one-liners from the other participants.

Since my conversation took place before cell phones had been invented, I have no photos of the meager office accoutrements. Instead, I offer scenes from my morning commute.

72 thoughts on “Signs of Status – #1LinerWeds

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    1. I ran into way too many of those guys when I was consulting. As a consultant, I had no status. Never mind the fact that your company was paying the company I worked for, a ton of money, nope, feel free to treat me like dirt,

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I always appreciate a good laugh out loud with my coffee first thing in the morning. “Walnut and brass two-level inbox” certainly did that for me. It took me back to the days of titles = size and quality of desk, leather or fabric desk chair, choice of side chairs, potential art on the wall(s), and whether you had earned a conference room table. Intelligence, productivity, or ability to get along did not play into it. :-) Hope the rain moving in doesn’t raise that river too much more. Happy Wednesday.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks Judy. I figured you could appreciate this one.The insurance companies here were so “organized” that a sharp eye could figure out everything as soon as you walked in the room.

      When I was responsible for putting PCs on people’s desks, I got in trouble because I gave one to a secretary (to use for word processing) before giving one to the VP she worked for. There was absolutely nothing he could do on a PC at that time (we didn’t have email yet), but he felt he should get one first. I stood my ground, but he never forgave me.

      The park was still open this morning, but I’m not sure if it will be open tomorrow. The river was eating into the parking lot. Enjoy your garden outing!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Audit Manager was awesome, even if he used status to control your bully. Mr. X isn’t a very good manager when he can’t sit down with an unreasonable employee and tell him to get over himself. Jeepers.

    I remember an interview with Michael Jordan many years ago. He made a point of how people want to give him things, many things, and he said something to the effect that it was silly because he had enough money to buy all of those things himself. It was his status. I think of all the riches that are given to the already wealthy and wonder why that goodness can’t be shared with the poor and less fortunate of the world. It IS silly.

    Have a nice Wednesday, Dan. I hope you’re getting lots of sun and warmth today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Mary. Business (as I’m sure you know) is full of petty little people. When they get power, they get worse. I had a friend who said “the people with the least bit of power, often abuse it the most.” I think I wrote about that once.

      The really ironic part of this story, is that this man needed my help. I’m going to follow this up with the ending to this little drama, next week – it leads to one of the most ill-timed one-liners ever.

      We have a cool rain happening around us, but we’ve had nice warm days since Saturday, so I’m not complaining. I might get my bike out this weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Due to a recent retirement process I now work for the new CEO of our practice. Thank goodness I already like him. I have never been good in status situations but thankfully I try to treat everyone with respect. That is a sunrise worthy of skipping school, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do love the morning sun . . . it is so hopeful! I am in a wheelchair and I find it . . amusing how some people feel they can dismiss me because of it. Having the mental faculties to shred the unwise they are soon disabused of their opinion.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha ha – I see you as a warrior princess with swords of wit and sagacity. I try not to dismiss anyone, but if I’m ever tempted, I’ll remember this. I hope you find some sun today (we have rain).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never understood status….probably because I never had any! I think people who believe they have or deserve to have status are small-minded, inadequate, insignificant people who ride on the coattails of others simply because they can. Unfortunately, these same idiots wield a lot of power and know how to abuse it to their benefit.

    In the case of your Audit Manager, I guess “it takes one to know one.”

    Great photos today. Beautiful sunrise shots. And the poor guy on the sign needs hip boots!
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Ginger. The Audit Manager had no status either (only Partners have status) but he knew how to derail Mr. X’s attempt to bully me.

      I ran into many people like Mr. X. Unfortunately, most were successful in throwing their little bits of power around.

      I’ll get that guy a pair of boots, or maybe a canoe.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your Audit Manager was the best, Dan! Oh, the Mr X’s in the world who get their kicks from bullying others. They irritate the heck out of me. I would definitely be late for sunrises like the ones you captured. Guess Maddie was sleeping in……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. Maddie is only a morning dog on weekends, when she thinks we’re going for a walk. Otherwise, she’s seems to be a “five more minutes” kind of girl.

      The Audit Manager was great. He was very easy to work with and had been very supportive during this project.

      Like

  7. Oh, that’s brilliant! I wouldn’t have had to ask those questions, though. The man already said he couldn’t make the problem go away; that revealed his lack of actual status. Tin-pot tyrants are the worst kind.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Marian. He wanted to go on his little power trip. You’re right thought, the people with actual power rarely throw it around. They have the respect of others, and that usually gets the job done.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful sunrises, Dan.
    Yes… I’ve lived in a few different parts of the country and most of them were pretty status oriented people. But this is the most utterly status-absorbed area. Yeesh…
    I enjoyed the part about the lamps. (Snort) Spot-on. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Teagan. Yeah, I can feel the status creeping into the train cars when I visit your area. I wasn’t aware of the symbols of rank in that place until this event. If you got promoted, someone would actually swap out your cloth-shaded lamp for one with a brass shade. Crazy!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Frank. That place was a sea of telltale signs of your place in the organization. Lamps, side-chairs (one or two and whether they had arms), wall paper, inboxes…the list was crazy.

      The sunrises make me feel pretty good. In a couple of weeks, I won’t see them on my way in, the sun will be too high.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. In hindsight, I realize how lucky I was to spend most of my career in a company that danced a bit to a different beat. I was mentored early on by the outgoing Chairman that the real ‘power brokers’ in the company were the ‘front line’ people – including the custodians, secretaries, and later on, the Helpdesk people.
    While others are kissing ass at the higher levels, building relationships at the front line helped get things done faster and easier. When people like you, it is so much easier to get stuff done. Why bullies don’t understand that simple reality baffles me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. I think most bullies lack the self-confidence necessary to establish and rely on a relationship. Especially a mutually beneficial relationship. Mr. X actually needed my help. He would have been better off working with me than putting a barrier of status between us.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Here is a great IT story about status.

    Years ago at the American Lutheran Church, my boss inherited a large corner office with an expansive view of the city. After a few months, he approached the board of bishops with a request for more equipment. They were hesitant. Dollars spent on computers were not dollars spent on good works. They asked my boss how much he really needed the equipment and he told them, bad enough to sacrifice the space in his office to expand the computer room. That impressed them.

    The next year, he did the same. And the next year. And the next year. Finally, his office grew so small that he had to ask the maintenance people to cut his desk in half so it could be wedged into a space barely large enough to fit a chair and a telephone. He feet dangled out into the hall.

    This was back in the old Burroughs days and at the time, Burroughs (now Unisys) was having serious quality problems. One day, the Wall Street Journal called to interview Burroughs customers and my boss unloaded on them. He was featured in the article.

    A few days later, a parade of suits from Detroit appeared in our lobby. “Where can we meet and talk?” the top suit asked.

    “In my office,” my boss told them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great story! My first job out of college was with Burroughs. They told us that “like Avis, we’re number 2 but we try harder.” It seems like #1 is still around.

      Like

  11. That was a riot! The vibes of offices. Gosh, I could write a long post on that. I prefer to work directly with the boss, in small offices. I don’t seem to do as well with ‘middle management’ or ‘team leaders’ — it’s always the bosses who like me. I choose not to look into that too deeply and just stick to small offices.
    I’m not big on status. Status annoys me. People are people. There are fine people and there are jerks, and status has nothing to do with that, unless the jerks are using their status to be bigger jerks, which this guy certainly tried to do.
    Furthermore, working endless hours makes people grumpy and that should be considered as well. If the system isn’t working, it doesn’t matter who selected it or designed it, it just needs to be fixed and some grumpiness is to be expected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha – you are so right. After this project was over, we had a meeting about getting that system fixed. I’m going to share a bit of that next week on Wednesday.

      ” unless the jerks are using their status to be bigger jerks…” was clearly the case here. Fortunately, this jerk didn’t actually have much real status.

      I work in a small-ish company now, and it’s much better. It’s just easier to deal with people when they act like people.

      Like

  12. There are times when it is almost enjoyable when someone says ‘oh you want to play the game !’ And knows how to silently and effectively add the line ‘sure, its your backside to sacrifice…’ Then there are those automation procedures that cry out for any trace of genius. Reminds me of the time the night shift computer operator called me from her personal cellphone and was sitting in her car going down the call list by memory. Our computer operations center was the victim of a brown out and a failed back up power system. Printed call list – we don’t need that. We always have the latest list right here on the computer ! Which leads right back into your status story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha – I love it when the backup system is a dedicated person with a good memory. The funny thing at this place was that we had discovered the problem during a “surprise” visit to the data center. I put that in quotes, because due to the security around the place, I had to schedule our surprise visit 48 hours in advance and I had to list the things I wanted to inspect in order to get clearance. And they still blew it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. there are highly trained professionals and then there are highly trained professionals. If we were having a beer we could delve deeper into this mystery and if there were enough time into the spelling of delve…

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I like your Audit Manager! Wow, pretty astute of him to figure out Mr. X’s status by his office furniture and accouterments. Today even nobodies like me can have a leather chair, and fancy green two lighted brass desk lamp.
    I always liked that look and dreamed of creating a nook like that for Big Baby Boy. I never succeeded. :) Never enough money for that splurge.

    I love, love, love that composition of the cityscape with the flooded river. The water flowing inland around the grass, the trees on the right jutting out just so, and the piles and posts on the other side lead me through and around the whole image perfectly. Well done!

    You’ve had some gorgeous mornings! We seem to entering our Summer pattern of gray, overcast mornings. No colors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. He was my favorite manager to work for. We had some who would have joined Mr. X in bullying me. This guy always stood up for his crew.

      The park has flooded about half a dozen times this spring. I’m looking forward to lots of green, maybe a couple more weeks. I appreciate your thoughts on those pictures. I’m somewhat addicted to the views from this park.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Too bad that such politics have to be played . When I was dean at school I used to have to invoke upper echelon folks sometimes . I’d go as far as God , ie. ” You would’ve had to have God’s permission to do that …… ” . God didn’t seem to mind and it usually was a pretty effective tactic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My best friend used to say: “The really bad people get fired. The good people quit and mediocrity rises to the top.” It’s sad thinking how many times he was right.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

      Like

  15. This reminds me of how grateful I am to be out of that world which in my case was becoming more corporate every day. The photo of the sunset by the electrical tower is interesting by itself, but also in how it could relate to the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m grateful to be older and wiser, and not feel bothered by these people. Bullies are usually insecure. I love the questions you were asked! Great photos, and comments that appreciated lack of spring bloom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jennie. You’re right about bullies, and I think that’s why the Audit Manager’s approach was perfect – it targeted Mr. X’s insecurity, and he backed down immediately.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Marvelous anecdote, Dan. I, too am glad the bully was put in his place, but I’m left with a question. How, when, and where had your audit manager acquired his knowledge of the status of various desk lamps and in boxes? I suppose I’ve been woefully ignorant of such trappings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janet. Apparently, the trappings of offices at every level in this organization were very well known. Desk lamps, inboxes, side chairs, and other items were doled out with each promotion. Employees were forbidden from jazzing up their own office. The audit manager had worked with this company for years. I was new.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Treating people with respect goes a looong way:)
    Am so glad I didn’t have to deal with the status symbols of an office. My only demand was a good couch, so clients would feel “at home” and comfortable. In any case, your landscape shots are more exciting than office furniture:):)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I have actual sunshine here with leaves sprouting on the branches of the trees. My husband is outside mowing the lawn. I had your situation this last week. Every day there was rain and dark gray clouds. I am so thankful for this break of sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

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