Last week, I presented my team's results at a regular operations review.  My manager chose our service for the deep dive topic.  Several people worked with me on our slides and my L3 manager approved them.  It was an ops review so there were metrics but that was the intent of the reveiw.  However I know I am a high C and thought I knew how to handle a high D but what a nightmare.  There were 60+ people on a concall. The reviewer was an L2 plus all of his L3's, including my manager.  The L2 likes to have everyone participate so all of the ICs on my team and ICs from other teams were listening in as well.  

Not three words into my presentation, this L2 starts picking at me.  Disagreeing with the facts even.  He'd interrupt with a question like, "what color is the sky?" and I'd start to respond, get maybe three words out, and then he'd interrupt with "that's not right, it's pink."  I've always thought it was a bad idea to correct your L2 in public so I would just move on.  But the thing is, he wasn't listening or hearing a word I had to say.  And to make matters worse, he basically said he didn't support the service my team is responsible for at all (though he clearly doesn't understand what it is.) 

I think part of what happened is that we are focused on R&D and he'd been hearing his other towers complaining about issues in R&D in their reveiws all week.  And suddenly in his mind, I was responsible for all the woes in R&D -- which I'm not.  Oddly enough, I was presenting (or hoped to) solutions to some of those very problems that he was ranting about but I couldn't even get him to hear that.  He just dumped on me.  Over and over again for 20 minutes. Nothing, not a single thing that I said got by without an attacking response.  Not just challenges to our work or ideas, it was almost like he wanted to belittle me and put me in my place.

On a personal level, I was left feeling publicly flogged and humilated and that now most of the organization thinks I personally must have dropped the ball on a bunch of stuff that isn't even in my service area.  My team is all off in a panic looking for other jobs.  And frankly, I'm concerned for my company that we would have someone in an L2 position who is so rude and unprofessional in such a public way.  And if he really does associate me personally with all these problems, I can't help wondering if I can ever be sucessful working in his organization.  It's a shame - we actually have very strong results to share with him as well as plans for the future. 

I believe a key to what happened is that he is a high D and I am a high C.  But I have to say when I replay it in my mind, I can't think of anything I could have said or done to get the conversation back to anything productive.  He just needed to vent and he vented at me.  I've been vented at before, and called on the carpet if there have been problems in my area.  But this was not like that.  It felt very personal and in over thirty years in the workplace I've never been treated so rudely in such a non-productive and public way.  I keep trying to think of what was actionable out his rant and can't come up with anything. 

My company recently moved the seat of power to Texas and he is part of the new Texas clan.  Could it be a culture thing?  Sounds silly to ask but is professional courtesy not practiced there?  His L3s all seemed to think it was normal workplace behavior.  Everyone else that I've talked to was shocked and apalled that an L2 in our company would behave that way.  Stunned is how one put it. 

After such a public attack I feel like my career in this organization is over.  Please don't take this the wrong way but it feels sort of like being raped.  Logically I know it was not really my fault but I feel embarassed, humiliated, violated.  What kind of manager does that to their staff?  I thought we were on the same team...

Any thoughts on what I could have do or do now - besides a job search?  Ironically enough we have a two day management training session this week on how to be better leaders.  I don't even know what to say when I see him.  But then maybe he'll shun me there too...



bug_girl's picture

Seriously? If you want to progress in your career, you need to NEVER NEVER NEVER use that word as a metaphor.  If I heard something like that in an interview, the interview would be over.  You feel like what you *imagine* it might feel to be raped, but you are wrong. So very very wrong.

Now, having said that:

Where was your manager when this was happening? No support there?

I work with a very high C, and I've seen presentations go south for him because he forgets to BLUF. (Bottom line up front).
He gets bogged down in the details of how he got the information, and doesn't actually get to the information itself until everyone in the room is chewing their pencils in impatience.

If you have strong results to share--do you think that you did not lead with that? And that's where things went bad?

Can you now present those positive results--and ONLY the results--to the L2?


uwavegeek's picture
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I can say that I've had a similar experience by a high D that decided to vent on me in a public forum.  Only difference was that mine was at a trade show surrounded by customers etc.  Similar feelings I'm sure as his topic of ire wasn't my fault.  I talked it over with my wife and we agreed that no good could come of it by calling attention to it as no one can challenge someone that high up without taking on significant career risk of their own.  I have the good fortune of having a wife who is much wiser than I am.  My advice would be to swallow it and try not to vent to fellow employees, managers etc. It sounds like this person is a bully and the best way to deal with these professional bullies is to keep it professional and avoid them whenever possible.  As he is in Texas and two levels removed from you, this shouldn't be too difficult for the majority of your job (I hope). 


Best of luck.


MsSunshine's picture

If this is a one time thing, let it go. 

But if you will have regular contact with him, I'd suggest avoiding him is wrong.  By letting yourself be intimidated, you lose his respect.  You have a right to be treated with dignity.  In my experience, people like that will back down if you stand up for yourself.    The chances are that everyone on the call was uncomfortable.  If you can learn to handle the situation, you will be more effective at your job and earn their respect.

NOW you do not want to attack the person, be rude, appear defensive, argue, etc.  You need to be calm and assert your position.

  • If he interrupts you, interrupt calmly back saying "<his name>, you interrupted me" and continue on with your statement.  (Saying someones name usually gets them to pause.)  But don't let it get into a shouting match.  Keep yourself calm.
  • State your point as "your" point - not necessarily a challenge to his point.  I.e. "In my opinion...." or "I understand you believe that.  I believe ..." or "I believe I disagree with you but can you tell me more about your position".

What helped me a lot was a book from a previous mentor called "Coping with Difficult People".  It has a lot more details on dealing with what they called "Sherman tanks".

It's a little nerve wracking so you might want to practice this with a friend before.  I have done it with some pretty intimidating people.  In a few cases, it actually turned out that they were nice people - just had lousy manners!  People were amazed that I was the only one who could stay in control of a conversation when they were there.