Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).
Welcome to May, my basket of adorables! Here we stand on the cusp of Beltane, halfway between the solstice and the equinox: a time of growth and renewal, and the abundance of all good things. If you haven’t feasted recently, now is an excellent time for it; I myself like to sleep naked in a sycamore grove and awaken in the first dew of morning, as it does wonders for the skin.
I’m sorry for my absence last month (keenly felt, I’m sure), but I was… waylaid by some legal unpleasantness with the Federal Court of Australia. I have mentioned previously the circumstances surrounding my community service with NUPSA: in short, that I inadvertently piloted an SUV belonging to Gina Rinehart (whom I once made the mistake of befriending) through the front wall of the National Gallery, damaging certain artworks of spurious quality. This, I hasten to reiterate, was due to factors entirely beyond my control. That dreadful woman left a shovel beneath the seat, of all things, the handle of which found its way beneath the brake pedal. The ogress.
I thought the matter concluded, but now, new and ever more irksome details have come to light. Apparently, the boot of the car was lined with African conflict diamonds, which are causing something of a commotion; I had no idea, of course, but that hasn’t spared me the tedium of a thousand interrogations by both Australian and Angolan officers. They appear to be satisfied with my innocence at this point, but the whole affair has delayed the release of my new book, and left me uncharacteristically shaken.
Gina, suffice it to say, is persona non grata. I mean, honestly: who would even wear something so gauche as a blood diamond to a formal engagement?
But forgive me, my darlings. What can I assist you with this month?
I need your help and I am getting desperate for solutions. I am required to participate in group work this semester AND IT IS KILLING ME. I am in a group of three – one person seems to be unable to read and/or respond to emails, calls or social media, and I have growing concerns that they are doing nothing. The other team member is always rude, bossy and arrogant, and seems to think their contribution is ‘managing and delegating tasks.’
I have tried my hardest to communicate with both parties but, honestly, I think I hate them both. I can’t afford to fail, but I also don’t have time to do the work of three people. PLEASE HELP ME PENNY WHAT DO I DO? Am I allowed to punch them in their throats?
Groupon for Disappointment
Ah, collaboration. The bane of all industry – at least for those that find themselves in unfortunate partnership with a pair of selfish rineharts (a withering term I intend to popularise). I’m sorry you’ve had to shoulder the combined workload of three people until now; thankfully, there are ways by which we can restore equilibrium.
Alas, they don’t involve punching throats (though I am not opposed to the idea in principle), but rather, a classic stratagem of ‘divide and conquer’. Each of your other group members suffers from a different malady, and so each demands its own particular remedy.
First: the Hermit, avoiding all correspondence. Such behaviour is simpler than ever in the twenty-first century; so much of our day-to-day communication is digital that, with a flick of our wrist, we can make ourselves essentially unreachable to anyone we choose. Or so the Hermit thinks. In reality, there are a great many ways you can communicate your displeasure with this person, and urge them to contribute. Here are just a few (all of which I have employed on occasion):
- Send a mariachi band (naked or clothed) to their house – early in the morning or late at night, depending – to sing your instructions at their window. The lyrics should be repetitive, the arrangement cacophonous. I test the vocal stamina of all my mariachis beforehand for this purpose.
- Write your instructions on their front door, garage door, front gate, bay window, etc., in honey. The Hermit, above all, shuns teamwork and industry; there is no better demonstration than a colony of ants.
- Approach BuzzFeed to publish a story outlining their indolence, and avoidance of your calls. Ensure they are named personally throughout. Through a daisy chain of Likes and Shares, this story will invariably reach their News Feed, and public shame will do the rest. This is possibly the easiest of the three methods I have prescribed: it costs nothing, and leaves no sticky residue (except, perhaps, on their reputation).
If you are concerned that BuzzFeed will reject your proposal, having more exciting things to report on than your petty grievances, don’t be.
And now to your second culprit: the Tyrant, forever bellowing orders. Tyrants (and I have met many in my time, believe me) rely overwhelmingly on your compliance, and on that deep and peculiar tendency we have to defer to loud, authoritative voices. Behind such bluster, however, this individual is terrified of having to produce work of their own, and thereby reveal the true depths of their inadequacy.
The solution, then – as any good poker player will tell you – is to call their bluff. Tell this person that you’re struggling with some fundamental aspect of the work (though not for lack of trying), and that you’d really value their explanation of it, given their superior expertise. Arrogance is unsightly, but predictable; feed it until it bloats, and then turn it against them.
Don’t they want to achieve the best results, after all? Why would they entrust in inordinate proportion of the work to others of lesser knowledge, knowing their final mark will suffer as a result? No – better to work together, sharing their wisdom so that others may refine it, enhance it. Bask in it.
At the end of the day, the Tyrant’s fate is tied to yours. You are climbers on a mountain, bound by a heavy cord. Yank on it as required.
And if neither of these miscreants, these charlatans, has any thought for their own academic futures (much less yours), to hell with them. Slide a shovel under their car seat, see what happens.
Got a question for Penny? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and see it answered!