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He will patronizingly tell me how not to take anything personally, that what he said was a learning for everyone and that is why he actually said it out loud in front of 3 people; that as a senior professional I should take everything on the chin etc.
I walked out of a meeting with my boss today. I did not like his tone, I did not like the long and winded blasting I was receiving in front of 2 male colleagues, and I decided I had had enough. I stood up and said, “A – if you want to continue this conversation, either we have a closed door meeting or I am leaving. I am not comfortable rehashing all this in front of others.”
A is a man, so of course, if he backed down it would hurt his fragile ego – not only as a man, but also as a leader. So he continued talking in the same tone. I picked up my notebook, pen, said excuse me to the colleague leaning on the door, opened it and walked out without a word.
It has been a couple hours now and so far, there is deathly silence. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but I have a fair idea – I will be called for a “chat”. A will patronizingly tell me how not to take anything personally, that what he said was a learning for everyone and that is why he actually said it out loud in front of 3 people, I am a senior professional and I should take everything on the chin etc.
I intend to draw my boundary yet again clearly, and tell him exactly what I think of a public humiliation.
This isn’t the first time it has happened to me – corporates can be very difficult places where people display horrible behavior, and if you have had a 25 year career like me, these instances would be plenty. This isn’t also the first time I have answered back to my bosses.
But it needs to be reiterated that we stand up every time we are humiliated, our boundaries crossed, our self respect slighted. It didn’t come easy to me, but the discomfort of being harassed by my first boss ran so deep that I had to call him out. I was called a “wretched woman” back when HR systems weren’t as strong as they are now. I was 28 then. I haven’t looked back since.
The subordinate-leader relationship is a precarious one, with dangerous amounts of power hanging in balance. It takes an emotionally intelligent person to not misuse that power.
Today, there are feedback systems, robust human resource functions and a lot more transparency in dealing with truant bosses and yet leaders continue to display aggressive, fear inducing, insulting behavior, believing that is the way to keep the team in check. I know of one boss who broke his subordinate’s keyboard. And another one who brought eggs everyday to the morning huddle to give it to those who scored a zero in revenue generation.
These are intended to humiliate and little else. A leader who believes humiliation is the way to improve his team member’s performance needs to get off his chair immediately.
We are told early on, to listen to our teachers and then to bosses; to respect authority. Respecting authority is great until that authority is misused to embarrass, humiliate or slight you.
No good has ever come from making a person feel smaller and lesser. The people who tell you, you need to suck it up at the workplace are wrong. You shouldn’t have to. Pick your battles. For 20 frustrating moments I pick one, to speak up. It is super hard until you do it once. And then it becomes easy.
Set your boundaries and speak up if you feel disrespected or humiliated at your workplace. The support you may receive from unexpected quarters, will surprise you. You aren’t speaking up only for yourself, but for all those who unlike you, cannot. Speak up for all of them.
Image source: a still from the Marathi film Aamhi Doghi
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