by CareerActually contributor, Peter Luscombe


This is Part 3 of the five-part series. 

Just before Jan stepped up so the office doors opened in their seamless way, she caught a glimpse of herself in their mirror cleanness. Today she thought she looked especially smart.  It was always well worth the effort to lay out her clothes for the office the night before. Blue suited her. Matching navy blue jacket and skirt did work so well with a white shirt. The late addition of a diamanté brooch, nothing to flashy, added a bit of flair. Jan felt well-turned out for another day at the office, after a relaxing night at home. Jan smiled to herself as she stepped forward into another day at work.

At the lift, the usual were there at that hour.

Julia looked chirpy and smiled, ‘Hello. Lovely sunshine today.’

Jan nodded to that and smiled back.

Belinda was always another matter. She seemed to find comment where comment wasn’t due in Jan’s mind. ‘My, aren’t you turned out well today. Blue really suits you. Love the brooch!’ With the lift’s arrival at her floor, Belinda stepped off, then gave a supercilious wave.

As the lift doors closed, Julia said, ‘As irritating as that girl can be, she does look on the positive side.’

Jan felt startled by Julia’s unexpected comment. The need for any further comment was thankfully saved as the lift doors opened at Julia’s office floor. Julia smiled then went her way. Jan proceeded alone to her floor where she daily worked proficiently and efficiently.

Upon arrival at her work station, Jan smiled at the uncluttered appearance. All was filed away and in place. ‘A tidy desk meant a tidy mind.’  She knew she had an appointment with Mr Murdoch spot on 9 am to conduct the Review.

Wishing she had a mirror to check out her appearance, Jan smoothed down her skirt, thought of adjusting the brooch from the left side of her navy suit coat to the throat of her pristine, white shirt then decided there was no time for such fripperies. On she advanced from her desk along the gamut of others looking on. At least that’s how it felt, so oddly, this time. Regardless, she advanced forth with confidence. If any looked on then she didn’t seem to notice. Surprisingly, her passage was not regarded by most – no interruptions – so she arrived smartly at Mr Murdoch’s office. Indeed, sooner than her usual advance along the office.

Mr Murdoch saw Jan’s arrival and waved her in before she could knock on the door jamb. ‘Perfect timing as usual, Ms Worthington. Tea? Coffee? I’m about to make one for myself.’ Feeling that any refusal would come across as rude, Jan quietly agreed to tea – black – no sugar. Mr Murdoch, without any pomp or ceremony, made two cups of tea. Both black – no sugar. Passing across to Jan the beautiful white cup and saucer, Mr Murdoch proceeded to his side of the desk, put down his steaming cup and calmly surveyed her. She felt that – surveyed – as if he was sizing her up which occasionally felt the case when in his office. She sipped her tea.

‘Your Review,’ Mr Murdoch tapped a folder squarely placed beneath his left hand with an index finger, ‘is exemplary.’ She smiled. ‘I can find no fault.’ She smiled again. ‘I was impressed to hear how you keep up-to-date with current trends.’ Another smile of satisfaction. ‘However…’ Mr Murdoch paused and she felt a minor qualm. Making certain she showed no sign of any concern, she sipped her tea again and looked attentively at Mr Murdoch. ‘… one aspect stood forth very clearly,’ he continued. ‘People skills.’ She was taken back by the two words.

‘What ever does he mean?’ She placed her cup and its saucer on the small table beside the chair, and folded her hands in her lap and looked on awaiting for Mr Murdoch to elaborate. Her heart skipped a beat.

‘There’s no denying that you are proficient and efficient … but …’ he looked her squarely in the eyes, ‘it’s been noted that your manner with colleagues is distant; even cold.’

She felt aghast. ‘What does he mean? Surely not?’

‘Here we are a team and in order for the team to work well others need to have confidence in freely approaching  one another. People skills, Ms Worthington. People skills.’ Mr Murdoch again tapped the folder beneath his left hand. Jan felt like she’d been doused by a bucket of cold water. Her now discarded cup of tea – black – no sugar – cooled. ‘Two words of great import in the current clime of business.’ Mr Murdoch taped the folder again with his index finger. She felt those two words were a lead weight and each tap of Mr Murdoch’s finger a judge’s gavel. ‘Verdict? The accused is found – guilty!’

‘Really, Mr Murdoch, I had no idea.’

‘The outcome is clear,’ he continued on. ‘This is a matter you need to address.’

‘Of course, Mr Murdoch, of course,’ she hastily declared, as her heart raced. Needing to get a grip because she felt her composure wavering like the imminent collapse of a house of cards, she stood. ‘Thank you for your honest appraisal, Mr Murdoch,’ she heard herself say. ‘I’m certain I can better manage – People Skills.’ Her voice capitalized each of those leaden-weight words.

‘I have every confidence in you, Ms Worthington.’ Mr Murdoch remained seated and surveyed his able colleague. ‘Let us get back to dialogue about this say …’ he looked out into the distance as he flicked through the timetable he carried in his head, ‘Next Tuesday at the usual time.’

‘Yes, Mr Murdoch. Best I get back to work now. Next Tuesday will be fine. 9 am.’ With those words calmly stated, despite the turmoil and questioning inside, she proceeded along the gauntlet track to her work station.

Feeling a sense of prickly betrayal, Jan passed Geoff’s work station. Vacant. ‘Did he speak ill of me?’ Not stopping to ponder this recurring questioning in her mind, Ms Worthington passed Brad’s work station with her usual square, eyes-forward progression. ‘I wish I could speak with him.’ As her smartly shod foot took another step, she felt inside a sigh of resignation. ‘Simon? I suspect his ambition. No doubt he’d knife me in the back.’ Passing by Sophie’s work station, critically viewing the usual disarray, Ms Worthington wondered, ‘Sophie?’ As if hearing her query, Sophie looked up from the paper work before her.

‘Oh, Ms Worthington. I have that matter you mentioned in hand. I’ll leave the file on your desk by the end of the day. ‘ Sophie smiled, then returned to perusing the paperwork all aslant across her desk.

Feeling like she was walking backwards over sands, Ms Worthington finally … finally … got to her work station. She sat.

Look out for Part 4, to be published on Sunday March 22