Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Woman Manager Humiliated

This post is from Lucy Kellaway's column in the Financial Times. Link here.

One day a woman manager of a financial firm comes to work several hours early. She is accosted by two men, robbed, tied up, gagged, and left lying face down on the floor. Two hours later members of her staff arrive and untie her. Considering that she has worked long and hard to earn the respect of her staff, this humiliating incident has demolished her pride and confidence. She wrote to Lucy Kellaway to ask how she can regain her feelings of competence.

Happily enough, Kellaway does not buy into the advice that many of her commenters offered: the manager should run off to a therapist to sort out her feelings. As one of the commenters remarked: the problem does not really lie with her own feelings of competence; it lies in how other people see her.

The manager's feelings are not at issue. The way others feel about her is.

All the therapy in the world is not going to change someone else's mind, nor is it going to immunize you from the hints of sympathy and consideration that this woman is confronting on a daily basis.

Her feelings of incompetence persist because people now see her differently. As for her feelings of emptiness, they are a normal reaction to humiliation.

Kellaway offers better advice. She tells the manager to act as though nothing had happened. This is easier said than done, but it is still correct. It involves forcing oneself to pretend that something did not happen, at least until things return to normal.

But how can the manager go about overcoming the situation? How can she signal to her staff that things must return to normal?

Very few commenters address this issue. The only one who really did recommended using humor, because only humor will allow her to acknowledge that it happened while signifying to her staff that it is inconsequential.

And she must do so as a woman... not as a man and not as a person. As her letter suggests, this woman has worked hard to gain the respect of a largely male staff. She will tackle the problem most effectively if she does so as a woman and if she acknowledges that she is addressing a gathering of men.

You see where I am going. I believe that she should have convened a short meeting where she could speak directly to her staff. The sooner, the better.

I would suggest that she stand up to speak, tall and proud. And I would suggest that she begin by saying something like: I assume that most you know by now that an incident took place this morning that proved definitively that my middle name is not... Houdini.

I would like to express my gratitude to A, B, C, and D for helping me out of my predicament. It did not require very much effort, but it meant a lot to me.

I hope that none of you are shocked to discover that I cannot hold my own against two men who are 6' 5" and weigh over 250 pounds. If it was just one of them, I would have kicked some serious butt... but two... was one too many.

As I was lying there waiting for the cavalry to arrive I was thinking that this will teach me not to come to work very early. But I consoled myself with the realization that if I had arrived at the office at the normal time, then you guys would have been here, and you would never have let it happen.

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