“We almost called you this week. We had a terrible meeting and knew you could help us debrief.” This line was the opener of a meeting with two of my female colleagues who are in business together.
“I’m so sorry. What happened?” I asked.
Jane, my colleague, friend, and owner of a consulting company explained the situation. “Abby and I were there to deliver the final report on a three-month project. Alicia, who led the project for the organization was so sabbatical, so her boss attended. He was terrible to us. It wasn’t what he said, but how he said it. I had a visceral physical in the meeting.
“What did he say?” I persisted.
This is what she told me he said:
“You didn’t deliver what you should have.”
“You’ve done this before, right?” while leaning back in his chair.
“If I were the consultant, I would have done it this way. Why didn’t you do it this way?”
“In your professional opinion, in your professional opinion, in your professional opinion, do you really think you did the job?
Jane continued. “The meeting ended with the manager checking his own schedule and deciding to extend the meeting without asking anyone else if they had the time even though I set the expectation that I had to leave at 4pm. I stayed ten minutes longer and was late for my next meeting”
Jane and Abby left the meeting sick to their stomachs. Then they wondered if they were overreacting as women often do when men use the power of their position to condescend, blame, verbally assault, and challenge their professionalism and competence. Jane crafted a follow up email saying the meeting felt adversarial at times they wanted to ensure that any meetings in the future be collaboration. The company replied and accepted the next meeting without comment on the need for collaboration.
As we processed, it became apparent to them, that they experienced this man as dangerous which they should have. His manner was intimidating, and he was relentless in his assaults throughout the meeting. I defined this as battering, a form of verbal and emotional abuse, a process where one person acts in ways designed to undermine the confidence of another. I told them that they shouldn’t be hard on themselves for not knowing what to do in the moment. It’s impossible to think straight while being verbally attacked.
Then we talked about what to do the next time because there will be a next time for sure.
- Stop the action by calling for a break. Once back in the room call for respect and collaboration knowing that this kind of guy will resume his battering behavior.
- Feel free to interrupt, call out what you see happening, and offer a solution. In this case, they might have asked “Did you have time to read the report?” It seemed to them that he didn’t, and he confirmed this at the end of the meeting. They might also have said, “it seems you are very displeased with our work” Or “We have a disconnect. You think we haven’t delivered, and we believe we have which is indicated in the report on pages….”
- Do not call out the abusive behavior in the meeting. I know it’s tempting to say, “Do you have any idea how offensive you are?” However, doing this can lead to a tirade worse than what is already happening.
- Stop the meeting if it is apparent that people are getting hurt, or you are experiencing discomfort. Take your own discomfort seriously. Your body or your feelings are giving you valuable feedback about what is happening to you in the moment.
- Be prepared to give up business with batterers or move to another position or company. Don’t think for one second, they will change or that you can change them.
- Be prepared to be labeled a difficult woman if you stop putting up with abuse.
- Expect to think “Poor him.” Women often feel sorrier for the batterer than they do for themselves thinking that the male must have been hurt or battered themselves as children. While it is likely that they learned their abusive behavior in their families, they are still responsible for changing their behavior as adults. All to often they like their power and even when confronted, will deny their abuse.
- Be prepared to experience your power when you enact strategies that protect you and others from demeaning, harassing, and dangerous males in the workplace.
The message here is clear. There are men who use their power or status to disregard, demean and dismiss women, call them names, blame them, challenge their competence, undermine their authority, and accuse them. You’re not imagining it and you have a right to defend yourself. Be prepared.
Call me to help you debrief a difficult situation or prepare for one that you anticipate will be difficult. Don’t put yourself in danger at work! Be prepared and to be bold and powerful! +1.240.305.7508
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This article deals specifically with male to female verbal and emotional abuse in the workplace. It isn’t meant to cover abuse of males by females, other males, or others in the workplace.