Since it’s my husbands birthday today I’ll tell y’all one of his favorite work stories of mine.
When I was a young-know-it-all-staffing-manager I acted like it. If I knew I was right about something, I didn’t back down. If I knew someone on my team (errr corporate didn’t really feel like they were on my team though) was not going to be as nice as they could be to one of my customers I refused to let them talk to my customers. I prefer to handle it myself than have to clean up a mess after someone who knows nothing about, or even laid eyes on, my customer has been rude.
I had gotten in a situation where I did not want the person over AR talking to my customers anymore. I wanted her to tell me what she needed and I would go and chase it down. Any of my customers who talked to her complained about how rude and disrespectful she was, even if it turned out to be an error on our part and not the customers. I even remember the owner of the company saying she was “his bulldog.” I always shudder when I think about that because he said it like it was a good thing, some sort of twisted compliment.
On one of the visits from the owner he asked me why I didn’t like the person over AR. I didn’t answer him right away because I wasn’t prepared to give a business reason over a purely emotional opinion. I tried really hard to think about all the business reasons I could provide to why I didn’t want to talk to her, or let her talk to my customers but it really boiled down to the fact that she was a jerk. So I sent an email answer to the question (I had to send the email to the VP because the owner didn’t have an email address). In the email I answered his question and I flat-out typed that it’s because she’s an asshole. Plain as day, I used those words in black and white.
Now, I got a phone call and was asked why I would do that and specifically why I would do that in an email. Well, because I believed I was right. I knew for a fact that it was a correct label for her and that was that.
Here’s the kicker. The owner would use GD and other swear words on a regular basis when we would have meetings. Just pepper them allllll through the conversation. I had no reason to believe that I would get in trouble for using that word. I also thought it was perfectly fine to put it in an email because I stood by what I said.
What I can tell you I eventually realized is, you can’t always emulate the behavior you see. The owner and I were not judged by the same standards so we could not behave in the same way.
I think that’s pretty much true of the hierarchy right? You’re held to different standards depending on where you are in that. It could be as simple as how well you abide by the dress code to how you can get away with talking in meetings. I’m not saying its right, what I’m saying is be aware of it. When you can, you should step back from a situation and try to map out the possible consequences to your behavior and determine what you’re comfortable with. In that example, I would probably send the email again. I still believe it was an environment where the impression was it would be accepted and it’s not like I got in real trouble over it. BUT 33-year-old me is pretty much ashamed of that behavior because I know there are better alternatives to how I handled it.
Worst case, when in doubt call your mentor. Or just remember Justin Minyard’s advice that he gives me any time he thinks I’m leaving for work frustrated “Just don’t call anyone an asshole in an email today.”