Intimidating? Me?

A friend of mine posted a pic on FB about how some people in life are going to find you intimidating. I commented that I’ve had a boss tell me my co-workers found me intimidating, which absolutely floored me. I’ve never considered myself intimidating, and at 4’10” and 110 lbs soaking wet (at the time), I didn’t see how anyone could find me intimidating.

I’ve had some time to think this over. I’ve always considered myself as a little shy. I’ve realized that actually I’m just introverted, and don’t feel comfortable trying to interact with large groups. But I can be quite talkative when in smaller groups and talking about something I have an interest in. I’ve always considered my sister to be the outgoing, bold one. Slowly, I’ve remembered events over my life that have led me to understand that, yes, for some people, I can be intimidating.

During college, I was a member of a local group of women who met once a month to play some game. Everyone chipped in $5 each month for prizes the next month. If you couldn’t make a meeting, you were supposed to find a substitute who would play, and also pay the $5 for you for the next meeting. I couldn’t make one meeting, so I arranged a sub who knew all the rules. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t make it, and some of the subs didn’t know the rules, and didn’t want to pay the $5. The next day, I heard all about it from one particular friend, who I had always considered kind of an upfront and outspoken woman. She was livid, and she mentioned that she’s repeatedly said, “Well I wish Crickett was here! She knows, and she wouldn’t be afraid to tell you!” When I was bewildered at her statement, she said I’d always said exactly what was on my mind. That was the first time I’d had an inkling that other people saw me differently than the mousey person I saw myself as.

There were a couple of classes in college where I remember being quite vocal. A literature class where I and another guy, the only two grad students in the class, were the only two people who would answer the teacher’s questions. We got into a tag-team thing, where one of us would start talking, which would inspire the other to add something, which the first person would add to, and so on. I always thought that the other people just hadn’t gotten to the point of understanding that demonstrating a willingness to participate could mean the difference between getting an A and getting a B in the class. I’d already been teaching as a TA, and seen how that willingness played out in grades.

I remember a job I had after college in a plastics company. We had mandatory inventory count every 3 months, and the company president would provide lunch for all of the office workers. At one of these, the CEO told an old joke about a post-op transexual showing up at a high-school reunion, and talking to her old buddies about her surgery. Punchline was about how much it hurt to have them suck out half her brain to turn her into a woman. There was laughter from the men, and polite tittering from the women. I, on the other hand, proceeded to tell the joke about 3 men being marooned on a deserted island. When a lamp washed up on the shore, and the genie inside offered each man 1 wish, the first man wished to be the smartest man on earth. The genie snapped his fingers to make it so. The second man wished to be twice as smart as the first man. Done. The third man wished to be twice as smart as the second guy. Snap, and the genie turned him into a woman. I just looked at the CEO while there was some laughter and a lot of coughing from people trying not to laugh. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized the retaliation he could have done toward me. I mean, we were in the South, he was the CEO and I was a lowly Customer Service rep.

I remember the first job I had in the computer industry. I was supposed to write manuals for their many customized database programs, and do some testing when I had time. I’d never done testing before, and told the hiring manager so. I negotiated a good salary for starting in the South, but which I later found out was crappy for the computer industry in Colorado. The company got bought out, and a hiring freeze was instituted. I ended up QAing for 12 different project by 12 different Devs in two different offices…for 6 months. When time for salary raises came around, my boss tried to tell me that the “huge” 10% he was offering was fantastic for a person straight out of college. I reminded him that I wasn’t straight out of college, and I’d been doing the job of 2 different people by myself for the last 6 months. I negotiated a 50% increase…and got it. When I told my mother, she stared at me in amazement. She said I had brass balls the size of Texas.

That company got bought out of few times, and QA became its own department. I applied for manager and got passed over, TWICE. Once for a racist, sexist asshole. Once for a Dev that had no idea how QA worked. My boss at that time (who was actually the guy who’d hired me) told me he thought I “just wasn’t managerial.” I left shortly after, negotiating a 25% increase in salary. About a year later, my ex-boss called and asked me to meet him. I warily agreed. He apologized for not promoting me. He said he’d gone to work for another company as manager of their QA department. That when he worked with me, he’d never worked with a QA person before, so he’d never had anyone to compare me with. When he started working a several other QA people, he realized all the best ones reminded him of me. He offered me the most sincere apology I’ve ever heard, and begged me to take a Myers-Brigg test so that he could use the profile to compare to new applicants.

A couple of jobs later, I took a Contractor position at a small firm, working for a guy I’d worked for before. Several times, he gathered everyone together to persuade folks to come in on weekends at crunch times. I always declined. He pidgeon-holed me once about it. My reply? “Sure. Find me a wife, and I’ll come in on weekends.” At his puzzled face, I said, “Yeah, a wife. You know, that person that cooks, and cleans, and raises your children? Find that person for me, and I can come in on weekends. Because until you do, my husband makes more money that I do, and it doesn’t make sense for him to stay home while I work.” He never asked me again, but the story obviously got repeated because a couple of years later, the HR person privately asked me if I’d actually said that. And at my going-away party, one of my co-workers asked if it had actually happened, and wished he could be half as bold as I was.

So yeah. Intimidating. I mean, it’s still kind of a foreign concept. I’m not extroverted at all. I’m ok with speaking up in front of crowds, but I don’t seek it out. I’ll take charge of a group, but only if I see that no-one else is going to step forward, and it’s quite obvious that someone HAS to. I tend to mind my own business, and I’m rather controversy averse, but that doesn’t mean that I never state my opinions. I guess that for those folk who aren’t use to women speaking out, or think that they shouldn’t, I can kind of see how they might find me intimidating.