Confessions of a benefits manager: Trials of temptation

It is a bit of a shock to be back at work after more than a week of sloth and merriment. Big Bad Boss is still merry; he keeps humming In the Bleak Midwinter, which, more than 12 days after Christmas, is surely bad luck. Lazy Susan is still, well, slothful.

All she has done all day is look at her holiday snaps on her screen, and from what I can see from here, they all appear to be of her boyfriend in a party hat and not much else. Do they allow that sort of thing on Facebook, I wonder? Or maybe that was a yule log he was holding. The thing is, everyone else seems to be still irritatingly full of Christmas cheer, but I am not. I am fed up.

What I really need is some motivation, some direction and goals for the year. I don’t mean my work performance plan. Naturally, my key performance measures are a complete work of fiction, designed to give maximum results for minimum effort. No, what I mean is I need some personal objectives to give purpose to the New Year.

I have made some resolutions already. This year, they are mainly about keeping healthy habits. Mum’s Christmas pudding, so fleeting a pleasure, has taken up residence on my thighs, so I am sticking to a rigid calorie-controlled diet for the foreseeable future. I am fed up with it already. For a start, I am allowed only one cup of tea a day. Yes, I know tea hardly has any calories, but if I drink 10 cups a day with lots of milk and two sugars (and normally I do), I am hardly going to lose weight. No, one cuppa a day it is, and I have had one already today. Sigh.

Unhealthy relationships

I have also decided to avoid unhealthy relationships with the opposite sex, which is another way of saying I will avoid having anything to do with the opposite sex. I need to go a few months without heartache and confusion, so I can focus on other, more important things. If only I could stop thinking about tea. I am having no trouble keeping away from men, but tea is another matter. To distract myself, I ask Lazy Susan what she is planning for her holidays. Not that I am remotely interested, and actually I rather dislike the way so many people lurch from looking forward to one holiday straight into looking forward to the next one. What about living for today?

However, it will do me good to listen. I read a book over the holidays about leadership and good listening, so now I am all fired up about it. I have even made it a resolution.

I realise I have this terrible habit of jumping in and finishing people’s sentences. It is not that I think I know better, it is just that, well, so often I do. And people waffle on so slowly. By the time Lazy Susan has told me about her Christmas and about what her sister said about her boyfriend’s new piercing and what she said back to her, I have tuned out and missed it. Shame.

Listen properly

The book had this silly mnemonic to help remember how to listen properly. Of course, like all mnemonics, I have forgotten it already, but it went something like this:

L Listen carefully. Gosh, I hadn’t thought of that.†

I Information. Is there any information in the message or is it just drivel?†

S Summarise frequently. Repeat everything back until you feel like a silly parrot.†

T Try to understand. Ask yourself: “Do I understand what this idiot is trying to say?”†

E Encourage the person to keep talking. Even if they are talking total rubbish.†

N No advice. Really, even if you do know better.

That is all very helpful, but by the time I have dredged this checklist from my memory, and worked out what “S” stands for, Lazy Susan has been talking for a full five minutes and I haven’t heard a word. I suspect I haven’t missed much. Suddenly, I look up towards the coffee machine as something catches my eye. There stands a vision of male beauty. He is tall. He is dark. He has wavy hair that flicks around his ears in a just-got-outof- bed-and-ready-to-get-back-into-it kind of way.

Up for a good time

He is slightly swarthy and has a cheeky bad boy smile that seems to say: ‘I am up for a good time if only there was someone interesting to talk to around here.’ Lazy Susan continues to whinge on about how her boyfriend won’t even consider going to Malaga, but my attention is lost. I shush her impatiently. All I want to know is who that mysterious stranger drinking espresso is, but Lazy Susan does not know him either.

Well, I am no longer following the listening protocol. There is no important information in her message, and I am sure I understand that much without repeating it back. I am not going to encourage her to keep talking either, except to tell me if she would like me to get her a hot drink. I am not to tell her what to have, but she had better decide quickly; Adonis won’t be at the machine for much longer. Eventually, after a pause in which the even most slow-witted could have answered a far more difficult question, Susan says she doesn’t want anything after all. Aaagh.

But Adonis is still there. He has knocked back his espresso and is selecting another drink. There isn’t a moment to lose. I will stick to my resolutions, really I will. Starting tomorrow.