Alright, readers, it’s about to get real today in part 1 of a 2-part post, as I’m adding another post to the transparency category. I was a little hesitant to post this one up, but after discussions with several professionals in my life, I feel like it can provide some value. With that preface, here’s a story about office conflict and nerves of steel… or not.
I work in the aviation/aerospace industry, which is heavily dominated by men, and my office environment is no exception. Further, most of my colleagues are technically inclined, and I’m the only “creative” in the office. Further still, most of my colleagues are old enough to be my parents, and I’m the youngest by a minimum of 10 years. All of these differences make me an easy target for zingers, and when our entire sales staff comes together, the zingers start flying instantly. Granted, they zing each other, too, but eventually, it ends up being several against one, because it’s just easier that way. Joking and “all in good fun” are part of most office cultures, and I can generally dish it out with the best of them. However, this time, it went a little too far, and I had what I consider to be one (ok, fine, TWO) of the most unprofessional moments in my career. So what pushed me over the edge?
Going professional. Most of the time, the jokes have nothing to do with my professional ability. I can counter a comment about being too young to know what “rolodex” means with a comment about fancy coffee or Twitter. I can’t counter a comment about how long I’ve been in the industry, since most of these people have been in aviation longer than I’ve been alive. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have expertise, that I can’t provide insight, or that I’m not an authority in my subject or position. When you start taking shots at my ability to do my job, that’s a problem. When you start undermining my credibility as an educated and experienced professional, your jokes are no longer funny.
Going public. If you have an issue with a decision I’ve made or a program I’ve implemented, I’m happy to discuss the concerns in a private, professional meeting. However, while I’m standing up to give a presentation to a group of 20 is not the time to air grievances. This is particularly true if the grievance is more a matter of opinion vs. fact (“I don’t really like the color of the ad” vs. “There’s a typo on the website”). Most business books and conflict management books suggest approaching someone in private, since public events say “attack”, and make people defensive. And, it’s true, I felt attacked, and therefore, became defensive.
Going blame-crazy. I work for the parent company, and the sales meeting was for one of the child companies. Several complaints from the reps are in direct conflict with the overall company strategy, which they don’t know about. So, many reps thought that I was refusing to accommodate their requests because I just didn’t like them, didn’t want to do it, or just ignored them. In fact, it was because the requests were in direct conflict with the over-arching strategy, and what upper management had dictated. Unfortunately, the reps never heard from upper management, so they just blamed it on the one person they’d made the request to; me.
Going beyond the line. As the situation escalated, I was clearly not in a position to continue the discussion in a professional manner. Instead of suggesting a recess from the discussion, it kept going. And going. We moved from a passionate discussion with a purpose, to personal shots, yelling, and throwing our hands up. I’ll take ownership of the mistake not to leave a volatile situation when I should have, and allowing myself to be pushed over the line. To me, I was afraid of looking “weak”, “wrong” or “unsure” by walking away from the table. Instead, I feel that I looked angry, explosive, and defensive, which is no better than the impression I’d give had I walked away.
I’ve re-capped the factors that contributed to the melt-down, and tomorrow’s post will give some tactics to resolve the conflicts!