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Maryanne Mitchell is the office manager for the Koch, James and Hightower law firm. She is meeting with Martin Koch. It is not unusual for Martin to ask her to stop by, but still she gets up tight and nervous whenever he does.

“I am just a born pessimist,” she frets to herself, waiting for Martin to start.

He gets immediately down to business. “We seem to have some problems, Maryanne. Generally, things are going smoothly. The snag seems to be with some of the typing and some of the filing along with the billing. What do you think you can do to clean things up a little?”

Maryanne sighs but does not respond.

“What do you think? Is there any hope for it, Maryanne?” Martin asks, trying to relax the discussion.

Finally, the office manager says, “I’m worn out from trying. It is exhausting, trying everything there is to try and people are still not satisfied. I will try to straighten it out, but don’t have much hope.”

Martin leans toward Maryanne and says, “Maryanne, you have been with me from the beginning. To tell you the truth, I’m beginning to get some heat about you, about your performance. There is some question about whether you can handle things anymore with the computers and all. I don’t know. I think you can do it, but you need to tell me what has to happen to get things straightened up.”

Maryanne sits motionless, not saying anything until Martin settles back to outwait her. In a small voice, she reluctantly says, “You’ll have to decide for yourself about me. I am working as hard as I can. I’ve given this firm all I have. Things are a mess around here. I’m a nervous wreck from trying to straighten out everything that goes wrong. Everyone thinks it’s all my fault. I suppose they are right. I’m just one person and can’t do it all. It must all be my fault. Even you think it is all me, now.”

Martin can feel his ambivalence. Part of him wants to hang tough with the office manager and the part that has known Maryanne for years wants to straighten things out for her. As he tries to get control of his feelings, Maryanne says, “It’s no wonder I get so nervous and upset. Things keep changing. About the time I get one thing straightened out, it’s something else. It’s like riding a roller coaster. It is more than anyone can be expected to handle. I guess someone needs to be the scapegoat, though.”

Martin does not know what to say now. Maryanne has been with the firm too long just to fire. Anyway, that is not his style. When good people are not getting the job done, pointing the finger at them is not the way to go.

“People around here care about you and want things to be comfortable for you, Maryanne.”

Maryanne looks down at her hands as she says, “I need this job but it’s not my life. I work because I need to work, but it’s not the center of my life. The things and people who are important to me are not at this office. When I’m here – which is a lot more than I am getting paid for – I give it 100 percent. I think my seventeen years prove that. I don’t know what you’re going to do about the problem you have. It’s for sure I can’t work any harder.”

The conversation does not end so much as it dies. Maryanne leaves without saying anything more. Martin is at a complete loss. He takes a deep breath, rubs his chin, reaches for his phone and asks his secretary about his next appointment.

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