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The coach: My colleagues dismiss my opinions

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An interior designer working for an architect finds their opinions are repeatedly dismissed; and is it time to move on if your practice only ever wants you to do detailing? Matthew Turner gives his advice

My colleagues dismiss what I say

I work in an architects office as an interior designer, and we have regular lunchtime pin-up sessions where we discuss design issues on current projects. In these sessions I have questioned some of the architectural decisions; I guess I speak my mind. However, the architects often dismiss what I say, and clearly regard my opinion as not particularly valid, some of them are even sneering. Sure, I am not an architect, but neither am I an idiot. I partly trained as an architect, and have previously had a number of other roles, so I have an outsider’s perspective. I feel I am losing respect for the architects I work with. What should I do?

You sound like the kind of person every office needs: interested, diligent and bright. 

All specialisms lean towards a ‘them and us’ culture, but for architects, so influential in forming the environment that others endure, this division is particularly unfortunate and even dangerous.

At the risk of unleashing a wave of denials, here are some observations about the profession:

Architects like to think they have a greater understanding of the world than non-architects. Despite lavishly long training, an honest architect knows we can be pretty poorly educated. We like to flatter ourselves we are jacks of all trades, yet find it hard to accept we are not master of them.

Comforted by the perceived status of an august profession, we have a sense of our own self-importance, despite the relentless slide towards being marginal. Architectural snobbery can be particularly strong towards those who do related activities, such as interior design.

But ultimately, architects’ worst failing as a tribe is perhaps what you are experiencing: we tend to not be good at listening. I suspect the fact you are an interior designer is weighing more heavily in their perceptions than your actual opinions.

Given your evidently broad interests, this is a pity. You could be the most precious person in these feedback sessions; with non-architect’s eyes, yours could well be the star opinion for road-testing design ideas.

If they are too arrogant to respect your opinions on ‘their’ architecture, I would not give up on your interest. Not all architects conform to this negative stereotype. In your shoes I would consider quitting and finding some place more intelligent and more open to discussion.

My bosses take me for granted

I have worked at my practice for a number of years, and I like it, but it seems I am stuck as the person who does only detailing. I know I am quite good at it, but I never get put on anything else. I would really like to do initial design options and learn more about the commissioning stage. Other people in the office get given these opportunities; it is almost as though my bosses take me for granted. Should I think about moving on?

It sounds as if you are suffering from one of the pitfalls of being good at your job: you are relied on for one set of skills. After all, if you are good at something, and are thought of as the go-to person in the company for that type of work, it is only natural it will fall to you.

Do be aware this can often be a positive rather than a negative, so please don’t jump to the conclusion that your bosses are being nasty or taking you for granted. A much more likely explanation is they just don’t know that you would like to try your hand at something else.

Don’t jump to the conclusion that your bosses are being nasty

That you want to develop your career is perfectly laudable. Most bosses appreciate employees who, without being aggressive or accusatory, make their career intentions clear. In return for hard and enthusiastic graft, a boss generally wants to help you progress if they can make it at all possible.

Many people find annual appraisals a waste of time, but in your situation you can use your office’s appraisal system to professionally communicate your medium-term wishes – proposing something that is positive, actionable and, hopefully, possible.

Don’t sit there waiting for opportunities to come your way; you have to be assertive, in a positive way. If, as in many architects’ offices, a formal appraisal system doesn’t exist, you will need to make the space for a proper conversation with your bosses. This means planning a chat when they are not distracted or stressed.

Politely set out what you have achieved and how you would like to develop. Once you are sure your bosses are aware of your needs, give them some time to try and act. You may need to be a bit patient though, as the flow of opportunities to help your career develop may not be immediately there.

AJ Coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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