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  • Ashwini

Awkward situations at work

Women & Design // WID Insights

Have you ever been at a place of work and thought to yourself, “What am I doing here?” Well, you’re not alone. Working in the field that we do, these ‘difficult situations’ I’m talking about pop up more often than not.

Have you ever been at a place of work and thought to yourself, “What am I doing here?” Well, you’re not alone. Working in the field that we do, these ‘difficult situations’ I’m talking about pop up more often than not. Whether it’s a client that doesn’t value the work you do or a friend/relative who has an exciting project but wants you to do them a ‘favor’ — We can write gazillion pages about these awkward encounters. I’ve been in a couple of these situations myself and somehow managed to get out of them gracefully (Jk).

I recently took a Saboteur quiz online after a friend suggested it. Turns out I’m an Avoider — Someone that focuses on the positive/pleasant in an extreme way and avoids unpleasant tasks/conflicts. That sounds about right — you best believe I’m running in the opposite direction when it comes to conflict or confrontation. In my personal life, I have outgrown a lot of people and habits that didn’t work for me anymore. It has always been easier to look the other way, focus on the greater good and move on. One of the reasons why I avoid conflict is because it’s safer to forgive and just be happy. Well, I’ve discovered that professional relationships are ones that you cannot get out of easily.

An internship to remember

After I completed my course at college, I applied for some internships. Out of 300 emails I had sent out, I received 11 positive responses and 6 interviews. I accepted an internship that was considerably far from home (6 hour drive) and the studio agreed to cover my living and food costs as they couldn’t give my a stipend. Once you’ve accepted a job, the standard protocol is to share an offer letter and contract which never came (And thank god it didn’t!). I had a month’s time until the internship started and 2 weeks into planning and packing I got a call saying the terms of my employment had been updated. They told me that they couldn’t cover the food costs and they would cover only stay. I discussed this with my parents and they agreed. A week before I needed to start work, the terms had been updated again. This time, they said, they would cover food costs and not living. They were completely unprofessional and made the entire process very stressful.

I decided to agree to these terms as well and I moved to start work at this studio. On my first day, they told me that my role would involve mostly marketing and social media initially. When I asked about design, they said, we’ll get to that later. Marketing was something I had little to no experience in at the time. I thought I’d give it a try and learn something new but, the entire experience was ruined because the person mentoring me was extremely rude and did not guide me properly. Apart from the work, when I showed up to eat lunch at the cafeteria, the founder looks at me and says, “You can go pay for your food at the counter.” This was the moment I realised that they had manipulated me to come all the way to this new city and work (on something I don’t even know about) for free. It was heartbreaking because I wasn’t earning and I had to put my parents through a lot. Four days into the internship, I was so disheartened that I decided to leave and go back home. By that time, I had already started to look for other opportunities and luckily, I found one. When I talked to the founder about my intention to leave and my issues with the internship, he went to describe how this situation was extremely inconvenient for him because he had spent a lot of time browsing through applications. Not once did he consider my point of view as an individual that moved cities to work with him but got nothing in return.

If there’s anything we need to learn from this experience that I had, is to never work for free and to always asks for a contract that includes scope of work, discussed terms & conditions and remuneration. No matter what stage your are at in your professional career, if you are able to offer something of value and someone wants it, they need to pay for it.

A client that knew no boundaries

Last year, I started working on an industrial design project. At the time, I was working full time at the studio and slowly transitioning to contract-based arrangement. After completing the industrial design, the client wanted us to work on the branding and brand strategy because we knew the product best. Dhruti and I formed a team and decided to work on this project. Initially, everything was going well and there were just some usual annoyances with the feedback we were receiving from their end. After a while, they started to contact us on weekends, at odd hours, and were behaving unprofessionally.

There was this one instance where the client directly (I say ‘directly’ because the client is supposed to communicate first with the project manager before asking for any kind of work) contact the design team to get work done which was out of the scope of the contract. They were clearly manipulating the team to get free work. And it didn’t end there, they tried to poach the team from the design studio which is highly unethical. After all of their troublesome behavior, we still treated them with respect, kindness and finished the work on time. After receiving all of the work, they refused to pay the studio and the entire team suffered because of this.

These people were exploitative and did not know boundaries. Henceforth, we decided that we will only be open to working with people who are honest and appreciate design. As much they would like to think that making graphics/products are easy, we know too well the kind of hard work it takes. We need to ask for what we’re worth and say no to people that say, I’ll pay you when I have money. Because if they don’t have it now, what’s the guarantee they’ll have it later? If in any case, you find yourself in these situations, do not release any work. Get your payments and only then share the work.

Peas in a pod

This segment is not about any awkward encounters. This is about finding the right kind of people to work with. I’m so glad I have Dhruti and an amazing team at the studio who have been so supportive of everything I do — I have created some of my best work with these people around me. When you are around the best people, you project your best self and work doesn’t seem like work at all. If it wasn’t too clear at the beginning of this article, I do not work well with conflict. And I’m happy to say that, with the right people conflict doesn’t exist. It becomes conversation and any issue is resolved so quickly.

If you haven’t found your best team yet, don’t sweat, they’re on the way. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for these warning signs and choose well. Prioritize your happiness and peace of mind always. With a clear mind, there’s nothing that you can’t do.

Have you had any awkward or difficult encounters like I have? Write to us on our email and maybe we can do part 2 of this article!

We're always open to other perspectives, opinions, and a good chat over some coffee or tea. We'd love to host a conversation with you, head on over to our Discord and get in touch!

With 🧡 Team WID.


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