I need some perspective. I’m a C.P.A. who is a controller for a very large and successful privately held company, which owns numerous other companies. It’s a great job but requires very long hours which I can manage however I see fit. Almost everyone here in our corporate office, regardless of their position is a professional, hard worker, and all very good in their positions. Though many are women, we all get along very well. However…..
We have a woman here in this office who is extremely high strung and nervous. We don’t have her position backed up like we should (that’s another letter) and she works in a department here that I do not supervise.
She has always come to me for help, counsel, etc. Recently, we had an issue with a very large customer who was threatening to take his business elsewhere. She was called in to help us resolve the issue when the customer called to follow up on where we were in resolving it. He was very polite to her but after the phone call, she gave me a look of such sheer hatred that it’s difficult to describe.
I consider what she did to be gross insubordination. She would never have retaliated against her boss, our CFO, or owner in that manner. I think her retaliation was directed at me since I am a woman. I work hard to maintain a good working relationship with every employee at corporate. I know what’s going on with their children, when they have a problem at home affecting work, etc., and I also am dedicated to getting them the tools they need to complete the job. We all treat each other with respect.
First, her behavior was very personally hurtful to me. Secondly, I am at a disadvantage because her boss doesn’t want to upset her because he has no one to back her up and he’s afraid if he talks to her about it she will walk out the door. The day this happened, she ran out crying.
I don’t know how to handle her. I’m angry that she was so disrespectful to me, as the controller, and I am very uneasy about having any kind of conversation with her. What she perceived as my putting her on the spot was not intentional in any way. She’s been here a long time and I would have thought she could have dealt with the customer.
Where do I go from here?
Any time an employee is treated with kid gloves, it spells trouble. Whether it’s because the person is in a “protected class,” or “too emotional,” or “a woman,” or “no back up,” it makes people hold back feedback and do convoluted work-arounds, to avoid possible trouble. I think it’s just bad business.
In my opinion, the air will be thick with misunderstanding unless this is cleared up. It’s likely that it will only get worse—every action will be scrutinized for malicious intent and too much will be read into every simple gesture. If the tensions continue, she is likely to leave anyway, since she is “high strung” and won’t be able to cope with this ongoing stress. So, why not talk to her about it and straighten things out?
Explain this rationale to her boss and then prepare a carefully worded approach. The first thing you have to get past is your own emotional reaction. You have labeled her action as “insubordinate,” because you are the Controller and a woman. If you let this line of thinking continue to make you angry, this issue will not get resolved. In fact, you will be a contributor to the problem.
Instead, why not act like a bigger person—who indeed does have a higher title and status—and move beyond the dirty look to what the real issue is that triggered it? What do you think is more important in the long run: her show of respect to your position, or her misperception about the situation? Obviously, something in the conversation with the customer, or her perception about how you involved her is at the heart of the matter.
My advice is to calmly say, “I’ve been troubled by your reaction after the customer call with Mr. X. You seemed extremely angry and glared at me after the call and then you ran out crying. I’m confused…I wasn’t trying to put you on the spot with that customer, or blame you for the problem. On the contrary, I was hoping you could help us resolve his problem and we could keep him. Why were you so upset?”
She may end up leaving whether you speak with her on not and, in spite of what her boss says, the company will find a way to replace her and life will go on. This is an opportunity to act like a senior leader and do the right thing for you, for her and for the business.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist.
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