TITLE: The One Where Eugene Feels Like Chandler AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 29, 2005 8:00 PM DESC: Chandler found that being boss separated him from his colleagues. Some separation is unavoidable in asymmetric relationships, but we have some control over the size of the gap and how we all perceive it. ----- BODY: The Gang from 'Friends' One of my favorite early episodes of the American sitcom Friends has a subplot focusing on Chandler as supervisor at work. When Phoebe comes to work part-time as his secretary, he learns that he is no longer "one of the guys". His charges talk about him as boss, imitate his idiosyncratic speaking inflections, and generally don't like him anymore. At first, his feelings are hurt, and then he just feels separated and a little lonely. Of course, Phoebe falls in with the gang and even takes to calling Chandler "Boss Man Bing". Could it be any more obvious where I'm going with this? There are moments when I know just how Chandler felt. Moving into a supervisory position creates a separation that can hardly be avoided. The Big Office Downstairs is, well, downstairs, out of the regular action that is a usual day among the faculty. Especially in these early days, while we become accustomed to our new roles relative to one another, it's almost unavoidable that some awkwardness will intrude on what used to be comfortable or even close relationships. And where relationships were already a little tense, tension becomes even more palpable. That said, I am in a pretty good situation, at least compared to Chandler. I work with a pretty good group of people, and we all seem to be adjusting pretty well to the new situation. One of the things that made this job worth applying for -- in the presence of whatever problems the department may face -- is that, at bottom, we are a group of good people who have our sights on goals that we can all aspire to. We socialize well together and even play well together, as yesterday's department picnic and post-dinner volleyball game showed. Besides, as far as I can tell, no one has developed a good Boss Man Wallingford impression yet. (Actually, I am the most likely mimic in the department, and you should hear me do me!) However, in moments of dispiritedness -- brought on by the bad breaks of a day, by the fatigue of long hours and a deluge of new tasks to learn and do, or by my sagging biorhythms -- it's easy to feel left out. Sometimes the best thing to do is to seek out a friend and colleague just to chat. It doesn't matter about what, though talking about our latest classes or the minutiae of daily academic life bridges the gap quite nicely. Academic departments have an advantage over many business environments in this regard. A department head is more "first among equals" than supervisor or manager, which means that in the long run it seems possible to drive the gap to epsilon, for a very low value of epsilon. There will always be certain decisions that the head has to make, but strong relationships and an understanding on the part of all that such decisions must be made can minimize the separation that these decisions bring to mind. All of this requires some effort, though. Not the frantic denial that Chandler wants to execute on Friends, but simply working together, building trust in communication and decision making, sharing ideas, information, and -- whenever possible -- control over the department's course. But then I already knew that. I can only determine how I behave and contribute to these relationships. That what I hope to do. Ultimately, Chandler came to embrace the new relationship with his former compatriots, even playing along by giving them imitable material. I hope in my situation to create an environment in which we all feel like contributors, with me doing what I can to help the faculty take the department in the most productive direction possible. Okay, somebody's gonna be working... this weekend. -----