Accused of Bad Attitude But Think It’s Unfair

Question:

A program manager at my work as accused me of being rude to her. These past weeks when she said “Hi” to me, I say hi back, but unenthusiastically.

There was an instance when I was entering information and she asked me to email her something, I said “Uhh,OK.” She said “What did you say?” and I said I would send it. She then called me to tell me she will bring up my unprofessional attitude with her to the Executive Director. She likes attention and for things to be done her way at the exact time that she gives a command. Her office recently moved next to the front desk. While I am on the phone with clients or entering information,(in other words, working) she yells commands at me. She will wait right next to me when I am speaking face to face with a client. I have asked her to email me when she needs something from me. Her response was that she did not have to do that. I am not her assistant but I do need to work with her on certain things. This has never happened to me before. I was wondering how to defend my self against her allegations of unprofessionalism, when the Exec calls me in to discuss this. What should I say? Should I say that she is inconsiderate of my work or simply say it was a misunderstanding and that it will not happen again?

Signed,

Worried


Answer:

Dear Worried:

It sounds as though you have been showing some resentment about the program manager, maybe based on understandable irritations. Your way of greeting her, the way you responded to her request, all would indicate you were letting your feelings show.

How this will be viewed by your Executive will probably be based on how you usually treat people. There are some people who, if they were accused of being snippy,resentful sounding or disrespectful, people would say, “No way!” There are others who, if accused of the same thing, people might would say, “She says she didn’t do it, but it sounds like her.”

You probably know which group you’ll fall into, based on conflicts you’ve had and what your general style of communication usually is. I’m hoping you’re in the first group! When you meet with the Executive–and you don’t for sure that will happen–consider saying that you didn’t mean for your frustrations to show because you like to be seen as someone who can work well with anyone. You could say, “I realize now that I should have talked to you before the situation got to this point.”

Then you can move into the “However…..” part.

“However, since I’m here and we’re talking about it, I’d like to discuss the negative communications that have gone on since office spaces were changed and ask for your help.” Then, you could tell your Executive what has been happening and ask for his or her assistance to improve things. What happens next will probably depend upon the credibility and reputation of both of you, and upon how the Executive prefers to handle conflict.

You do need to get the conflict out in the open and talk about how to demonstrate respect for each other in the office. The examples you gave certainly sound as though the program manager views you as her assistant. Or at least, she views that she should be given priority attention.

On the other hand, she may have been told something different than you realize. If she isn’t treating anyone else that way, maybe she thinks you are the person who is supposed to help her all the time. That would be good to find out or to clear up! You can see why not saying something openly about a problem usually makes it worse. In this case, maybe both of you would have been doing things differently had there been clearer directions from the Executive to begin with.

So, rather than dreading the meeting with the Executive, see it as a chance to finally get this solved. If she doesn’t ask for a meeting, YOU should. This can’t continue and if it does you’ll probably end up getting in worse trouble.

The bottom line is that one person’s rudeness doesn’t justify return rudeness. It seems there were other ways to handle your frustrations with the program manager. Now that you’re in this situation though, use it as a chance to apologize for the tone you used and the way you’ve behaved. Then, ask for assistance in clarifying your role in relation to the program manager and for improving the way she communicates with you.

Point out the impact on customers when an employee, at any level, interferes with a business conversation. Point out the impact on your ability to get the work done that you’re responsible for,when she uses you as an administrative assistant to her. Ask for help in getting this straightened out once and for all.

Unless there is much more to it than you describe, it seems likely that your Executive will see that there is a bigger picture to this conflict and will at least take some basic steps to make things better.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.