What ever happened to being a good sport? The days of humble winners and gracious losers seem to have vanished with tail fins and whitewall tires. Instead, winners noisily beat their chests; losers grouse about being cheated. I think this derives, at least in part, from a growing lack of sensitivity and tolerance of different opinions, positions, status, culture, race, or gender. In the wake of a presidential race in which both sides warned that global catastrophe could follow the election of the wrong candidate, it behooves us to seek better ways to accept each other’s differences. When these crop up in your office you can’t always turn them into win-win situations, but as the examples below illustrate, you may be able to keep anyone from losing out.
Q: My boss, the managing principal at my planning firm, is constantly bragging about her children’s talents–academic, athletic, even artistic. Otherwise she’s a good boss, but I find myself getting angrier and angrier as she waxes on about her kids’ latest exploits. If I or anyone else brings up our children’s accomplishments, she quickly tries to top us by relating the latest high grade or gold-medal performance. How do I handle this?
A: Years ago, when I was raving about my 12-year-old son’s role in a Broadway show, one of my dear friends took me gently to task. She told me that it made her feel bad when I bragged on and on about my child’s talents, because her own kids might never be superstars. This reproof was painful at the time, but it dramatically heightened my sensitivity to others. In retrospect, I’m grateful to her for sharing her feelings with me.
So this question is a touchy one for me. If you have a good relationship with your boss–and it sounds like you do–you might take your cue from my brave friend and become a “courageous follower,” as Ira Chaleff recommends in his book of the same name.
Find an unstressful time and place to sit down alone with your boss. You might begin by complimenting her on some of the things you appreciate about her as a manager. Then tell her there’s one thing that frustrates you and, you suspect, others in the office. When she asks what this is, explain as kindly as you can that when she boasts about her kids, you feel bad not being allowed to share your own sources of pride. You might also suggest that it’s especially difficult for colleagues to hear her praise her offspring if their own children are not doing well.
Right now, it may be hard to empathize with her. But consider that her need to feel superior to others and, by extension, to feel that her kids are more special than others may be driven by insecurity. Hopefully, she will be big-hearted enough to learn from your honest, nonjudgmental feedback. If you fear she may hold your candor against you, you might try a little gentle humor to remind her that other people’s kids have their own special qualities and gifts.
Q: I dread our weekly staff meetings. The COO has clearly stated his preferred candidate throughout the presidential election season. Now that his candidate has won, he and his political allies have begun to use these meetings to tout the president-elect’s every virtue, while continuing to slam my candidate (the loser). This inappropriate behavior really angers me. Who should I talk to about it?
A: You might consider sending a memo to your co-workers, including the COO. Explain that everyone wants to respect each other, but people are reacting so strongly to the presidential election that it’s creating a rift in the office.
Your memo might add that you were already feeling sufficiently depressed by the election results, and don’t need to be reminded of it at work. Then, ask if it would be possible for everyone to take political talk out of the office until the wounds heal. Remind them that if the shoe were on the other foot, the other candidate’s partisans would surely feel as you do.
It would certainly be better to raise the issue in this conciliatory way than to risk a bitter and explosive blowup in the next staff meeting. I think there’s a good chance your COO and his political pals will get the message.
Q: One of my older clients continually disses me in front of a junior colleague during our meetings. I’m a female planner with nearly 20 years of experience, and my assistant is a young man just a couple of years out of college. When this client meets with us, he not only begins by discussing in detail our local football team’s latest game (which he knows I have no interest in), he also insists on asking my young assistant if he agrees with my take on the markets, the economy, and his portfolio weightings after I make my formal presentation each quarter. What gives?
A: This client has probably been marginalizing women for a long time, so any attempt to bring his behavior to his attention may not yield big changes. But I don’t think you should just suck it up and pretend nothing’s wrong.