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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, STEM

Managing Conversations, People, and Subterfuge – Part 1

If that is what you wanted, why didn’t you just say that?

I'mnotcompetingwithyouI discovered very early in my career that two must haves for my professional toolbox are good written and verbal communication  skills. These two skills have served me well in a number of professional positions that I have held including engineer, project manager, consultant, and administrator. They have also assisted me in a number of volunteer leadership posts.

Currently, I’m engaged in an exchange with a friend who is having challenges with a co-worker. The co-worker has just about alienated everyone he works with. He appears to be overly protective of those who work for him, and has warned them against speaking to anyone outside of his group. It appears that this manager makes it difficult for others to work with him or members of his team. He has resorted to withholding information, excluding others, and often taking pot shots at those who may threaten his perch on the professional career ladder.

I shared with my friend that her co-worker reminded me of a few folks I’ve met along my career path, however, one individual stands heads and shoulders above the others. If something negative was said or done, I did it. If there was any credit to be given, it certainly didn’t belong to me. From my recollection of the working relationship, she and I got along decently until we had our first disagreement.

Disagreements, by themselves, do not need to be game changers in any relationship. They can even be healthy. In fact, this was not an eruption, nor was it a screaming or yelling match. It was a fundamental disagreement with the direction of the project or work that needed to get done. Hell’s fury has been burning ever since.

One of my co-workers shared with me that her take on the problem was that this person didn’t like that I could tell her NO, or instruct her or a member of her group to perform a task or action. That may be true, however, she did ask me to give her a yes or no answer. What was I supposed to say to her? Maybe? I don’t know? or No comment? Seems to me this person had fixed in her mind what the answer or outcome was supposed to be, and when that did not happen, she set about launching a global war with me.

I also know from experience that some folks can feel threatened or intimidated in any position including individual contributor, team member, supervisor, manager, etc. This can be attributed to personal insecurity(ies), or possible shortcomings of their team or group.

After what I thought was a minor disagreement, the cold war set in. Although my reporting relationship was not to her, she no longer was interested in working with me. While she never said anything to me about our disagreement, she wanted nothing to do with me and she attempted to influence others to do the same.

Suddenly, I found my work and reputation under attack. My management team was scrambling to understand the problem. After a number of painstaking months and conversations with those that I worked with, they were able to report that no one had an issue with my work except this person. For a time, I took an assignment outside of my home office to change the venue and folks that I worked with.

No sooner than the perception of me not doing good work was cleared up, my writing skills were attacked. Although I will say that writing comes easier today, that was not always the case for me. However, I would not rate myself as a poor writer either. My management team spent hours reading everything I wrote, and asking others about my writing skills. At the urging of my manager, I reluctantly, agreed to take a business writing class from a local university.

Initially, I was very angry! Once again I had to prove myself because of something someone said. However, it turned out that the six-week writing class was much better than expected, and I was surrounded by other professionals from a variety of sectors at different levels on the career ladder. They were also seeking to improve their writing skills based on new job assignments or promotional opportunities. Six weeks later, I emerged with an A as my final grade from the class.

So what else was she going to throw at me? No sooner than my writing problem was put to bed, I was accused of being belligerent and hostile, and well, you could not trust me to meet with clients alone. Keep in mind that I had been meeting with clients all along at this firm as well as in a previous position with another company.

Once again, the local engine company…I mean my management team, spent time calling and talking to managers and employees in my home office and other locations that I had worked as well as a few of my clients. This latest criticism produced some unexpected results:
– no one that I worked with had a problem with me except this manager. No one in her team had a problem with me except her.
– one of the clients voiced a concern about this manager’s lack of professionalism and respect with him.
– several employees stated that they felt that this person’s attack on me was personal in nature, and had little or nothing to do with my ability to perform at work or my client relationships.

This game with me was definitely on. My complainer was not getting what she wanted. She seemed to become increasingly frustrated that her tactics were not being taken seriously by the management team. Her intention to build a case to terminate me was not working. As she put it, “they believe her and not me.” When she was told that there was no reason to terminate me, she decided to take matters into her own hands and go above the regional manager to voice her concern.

NBrokenHatersot only was the game on, it had gone into overtime! Locally, the department manager took the offensive, decided that she needed to get to the bottom of this issue, and identify the real problem. In her mind, they had spent a lot of time running around in circles, however, she was not convinced that the real issue had ever been put on the table. After several very difficult conversations, the unhappy manager stated that she was upset that I was being courted for a number of key assignments. It appeared that every time there was an assignment in another office, the managers and supervisors were always asking for me to work on their projects, and she wanted to make sure that her employees were given opportunities as well. Really? And her solution to resolving this problem was to take the skin off of my back?

The department manager agreed that this was a legitimate concern, however, her solution was problematic and not very strategic. One of several outcomes from this horrible experience was that this individual wanted to demonize me for anything and everything that was not going right at work even if I had no involvement in these activities. She engaged in subterfuge [Ref 1], a strategy employed to conceal something or evade an argument, with the intentions of having the firm terminate my employment….because she said so!

However legitimate her concern was, it didn’t justify her behavior or tactics that had proven to be harmful to me and the organization,  and it exposed the company to many risks. The department manager asked her, “If that is what you were concerned about, why didn’t you just say that? You would have avoided leading so many folks on more than one wild goose chase. Not only was this a waste of many people’s time, it was a waste of money as well.” It certainly would have created less problems for all parties involved including the unhappy manager.

I’ll continue the story in Part 2 of this post. In the meantime, I welcome any comments that you have including your experiences dealing with subterfuge or professional jealousies of co-workers and/or supervisors.

1. Dictionary.com

This post was last updated on 05.29.2014.


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.



  1. Pingback: Managing Conversations, People, and Subterfuge – Part 2 | BridgeBizSTEM - May 17, 2014

  2. Pingback: Looking Thru The Lens of Arrogant Entitlement | BridgeBizSTEM - August 7, 2014

  3. Pingback: Real Help That You Can Use | BridgeBizSTEM - September 17, 2014

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