Edition 40: That dreaded word

What “difficult” means

“Stop the rhetoric that a woman is crazy or difficult. If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult, ask him, ‘What bad thing did you do to her?’”

Natalie Portman said that at an event recently and it brought up my complicated feelings about the word “difficult.” Most women who are direct and opinionated have probably been called that. It’s up there with the word “bossy.”

Some months ago, I was asked to give my opinion of a woman journalist. I’ve never worked with her, but we know each other socially. I had heard things about the way she worked, not great things, but I had zero firsthand experience.

Stay in any industry for awhile and this will happen. Rumors will get out, things will be said. People will make judgements. The tricky thing is, we grow our business and our teams through word of mouth and referrals more often these days. Reputation, as I’ve written about before, matters. Maybe too much.

As I’ve thought about this, I realized that I haven’t always wielded the power of a recommendation wisely. I’ve spitefully told someone not to hire someone because I had a bad experience. I’ve recommended friends who I’ve never worked with.

I’ve been called difficult. Difficult implies that someone is intractable, abrasive, toxic. But that’s a matter of perception, isn’t it? It could be that I was called difficult because I stood firm on a opinion, or went against the grain in a meeting. I could be called difficult because a person was intimidated by me. Or because they thought I was to blame for a problem with their work.

I could be called difficult because an insecure person was bothered by my confidence, or something was taken out of context.

It’s often people who go against perception or against expectation who get called difficult. That isn’t always fair.

I’m resolving to think carefully next time I’m asked for my opinion of a person, and the word I think of is “difficult.” The best I can do is to give as much context as possible to my relationship with that person. I can explain my perception of a person and what led me to believe that.

Some questions I’m going to try to answer from now on:

  • How similar is my context for this person to the context I’m being asked about? (Are they applying for a leadership position, but I only know them as a colleague?)
  • What was my relationship with this person?
  • Were there any extenuating circumstances? Are there things about the situation that would have affected my opinion?
  • What are my opinions of their work, as opposed to their personality?


OK, OK, this is more of a plug than anything, but I just heard that SRCCON:Power extended the call for session proposals by a week or so. I am a big fan of the OpenNews world, and think the world of Erika Owens. Read this lovely Poynter/Cohort interview about the conference.

If you care about the dynamics of power within news, or outside and with news, you should look into it.

Reading // Ruminating // Testing // Watching

Reading //
A delightful Quartzy article on…poop. // If you haven’t read this piece on Kara Swisher’s worst bosses, you should. // An argument for closing your browser tabs, which I find very difficult to do.

Ruminating on //
This quote from a Shondaland piece: “That’s the issue with advice — when you’re struggling, someone’s two cents can feel like a quarter.”

Testing //
Notion as a life wiki and project organizer. I first spied interesting uses on NotionPages via Product Hunt. I’m pondering moving some of my more longer term goals and lists to this, as well as putting drafts for this newsletter there.

Watching //
Salt Fat Acid Heat (Netflix).  The thing I love about Samin Nosrat is that she visibly enjoys the act of eating, cooking and discovery. She’s not too cool for school, and she says the thing I would: “I’m just going to stay here and eat cheese.” // A Star Is Born. I never saw prior versions, but it’s great and Lady Gaga does not disappoint, nor does Bradley Cooper. I cannot get this song out of my head.