Spoke My Mind But Was I Right?

Question:

I work part time at a retail clothing store as a merchandising /customer assist rep( MCA). Basically I help customers who need help finding clothing or merchandise in the store. I put clothes back on the rack from the fitting room. I fold and make the clothes look neat and tidy on shelves and racks. Compared to my full time job this job is relaxing and I am independent. I take my direction from a supervisor who advises the MCAs on where to work and what to focus on during the shift. I do not have a problem taking direction from a supervisor and on several occaisons I have been complimented on how hard I work. On a least two occaisons, another MCA, who I will call Sally, has decided to come to me to advise what I should focus on and do during my shift. I have felt that she was out of place as she is not my supervisor. Rather than fight with her, I have seen the merits of what she has said and decided to go along. But, in the back of my mind this has bothered me.

About a week ago, I was working with her and I was doing my job putting clothes back. She comes to me and says that Jane has already gone through those clothes so leave them alone. I was still going through the clothes because I was checking what I could put back. I told her I am just going through these. She continues to go on how the pieces are mismatched and Jane has already gone through them. I told her calmly to stop telling me what to do; you are not my supervisor.

She continues to talk to me by saying that I am wasting my time. I got so angry that I yelled at her to get out of my face and leave me alone. I repeated in a loud voice that you are not my supervisor and to get away from me. I told her to shut up.

We were near the cash register and one of the cashiers told us to quiet down or go somewhere else. If we didn’t she would call a supervisor.

I was so upset that I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I just wanted her to stop and not continue to think that she could order me around. I told her that I am working on these clothes and if she doesn’t like it, she can jump a bridge.

Now she is talking back to me telling me to shut up and how glad she is there are witnesses so they can see how I am talking to her. When the supervisor comes, she tells me to lower my voice. I tell her how I don’t want my co-worker to tell me what to do since she is not my supervisor. She asks me if there is any place else that I can go to work. I mention another part of the store. She tells me to go there. I stay there for the rest of my shift. I felt really good at first that I got my point across. When Sally sees me on the work floor she turns away. I know she will not approach me again. Yet as the days pass I start to feel like I could have handled that better. But how? How do I get across to someone who insists on telling me what to do, to stop? During the week, several co-workers approached me as to what happened. I explain that I was upset that she was telling me what to do. I didn’t realize how many people knew about the incident. No supervisor has approached me on the incident.

I find out from a coworker later in the week that a supervisor went to Sally and apologized to her for me yelling at her in public. This got me really upset because no supervisor has approached me to ask what happened. Why is she being apologized to? Then I began to feel maybe I would be reprimanded for my behavior.

How I could have handled this situation differently and what I should do going forward. Should I approach a supervisor on it?

Signed,

Glad I Got My Point Across But….


Answer:

DearĀ Glad I Got My Point Across But….:

I don’t think you should be certain that you got your point across! What you got across was that you handled conflict by getting angry and yelling in an inappropriate way. That may sound harsh, but honestly, you made Sally look like a victim and you like an out-of-control co-worker!

All Sally did was irritate you. You upset an entire area of the store. That wasn’t what you intended I know. The question is, how can you recover from this, but still ensure that the other employee doesn’t bother you again?

What should you have done? The first time the co-worker told you what to do, you should have asked your supervisor for advice on how to handle a situation like that, and followed her advice. Since you hadn’t talked to a supervisor you should have done so when you realized you were getting angry.

The employee had no power to make you do or stop doing anything, so why even respond to her? Why not say, “I take my orders from Mrs. Smith. If you think her instructions to me were wrong, go tell her. Otherwise, Sally, please leave me alone. You may mean well, but it’s irritating and unnecessary.” Later you could tell your supervisor what happened, to ensure that your views are heard and to get advice.

Or, you could have been really honest and said, in a low tone of voice, “Sally, I don’t know why you feel you have to tell me what to do. I don’t do that to you. I’m never going to do what you say, so you’re really just wasting your time. Please stop.” Then, you could have stuck with that message over and over, until she got tired of trying. You still should have let your supervisor know what was going on.

In this case there was obviously a supervisor on duty! That is the job of a supervisor, to tell you what to do–you were right about that. So, if you felt that way, you should have gotten a supervisor over there to clarify things for both you AND Sally.

But, to repeat what I said before, you should never, ever, ever have yelled at her or raised your voice in anger in front of others, especially if there were customers anywhere around during any part of it.

Think about this: When you were hired if they would have asked you, “Ms. Jones, if you work here you will be working with other MCAs. Sometimes there are conflicts. How will you handle that?” Would you have answered, “Well, what I would do is yell and tell the co-worker to go jump off a bridge. Even if someone were to tell me to quiet down, I’d still keep yelling and show my anger, because I make my point, no matter what!” Do you think they would have hired you?

Your hard work is a good thing, but you may have just wiped those good points away! Hopefully you can recover. Consider these things: Go to your supervisor immediately. You should have done that at the time. But on the other hand, they should have called you in to talk to you already. The fact that they didn’t may be because they know you’ve been a good worker in the past. Or, they may be talking to HR about it to decide what to do. You may be able to show them that you have reprimanded yourself enough that they don’t need to! Or, it may be that they realize this was a one-time thing and they have chosen to overlook it.

When you talk to your supervisor say that you are very sorry for the way things turned out and you regret you didn’t call her to the area right away. Explain what happened. Explain that you had tried in the past to deal with it nicely but it became too much this time. Promise you will never do that again. Ask for advice about what you SHOULD have done and promise to do that next time.

Tell your supervisor that you’ve worried about it a lot, and have checked with several sources to see how you could have handled it better. Show her that you want to learn a different way for next time. If you show sincere unhappiness about what happened, and show that you worry that your former good work will be overshadowed by this, they may accept that well and work to help you get through this.

Let her talk to you about it, without arguing. Just take her advice and see how you can apply it. But don’t leave until you have good guidelines from her about what to do about Sally.

You don’t say how you heard that supervisor had apologized to Sally about your behavior. But, you’ll be better off not talking about this. Next time someone asks you, say that you wish it hadn’t happened, no matter who was at fault, and that you will call a supervisor next time.

I don’t think you should ask your supervisor about the supposed apology to Sally. The only person who could have started that rumor would be the supervisor or Sally herself. You could only have heard about it through talking about the situation with co-workers. So, it might not be true anyway. But if it has happened, it’s over with. To push it may only make things worse. Your goal is to focus on how they feel about YOU, not how they feel about Sally.

I don’t know how this will turn out, but I do know you should talk to your supervisor right away and make sure there is no doubt that this won’t happen again. Then, use your supervisor to help you with conflicts. That isn’t snitching, that’s keeping out of trouble.

What are you going to do about Sally? You are glad she’s avoiding you. But is that the way your supervisor will want to see work done? Will they ever feel they can put you two together again? You don’t have to apologize to Sally, since she certainly started this situation with her nosiness. BUT, you should start trying to reestablish a decent working relationship. Do that by saying hello now and then. Or, ask her a question. Or, just make casual conversation about anything at all. She may not trust you and may not be friendly. But, others will at least see that you are trying. Keep in mind that everyone is probably watching you two to see what happens next. Let them see how mature you can be. It will get back to the supervisors.

If she is unpleasant when you try to be nice, let it go for awhile. Try again another time.

Also keep in mind that the little irritants at work are only stuff and things. They’re not enough to lose your job over and are really not even enough to get in confrontations over. But if they are–and there are times when something needs to be said, such as the time you described–there are effective ways to handle it. Showing bitter anger or raising your voice is not one of the effective ways.

Best wishes as you develop your response plan for this. I know you want to do well and will do so next time. It sounds as though you enjoy your work there and are a dependable employee. That’s a valuable thing that you can build upon in the future. Good luck!

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.