I have a situation that seems to require attention but I’m not sure how to handle it. I work for a small media company (under 20 employees) where advertiser sales and company rep relations is very important to our business. My supervisor has proceeded to upset a large majority of our advertiser reps with his “egotistical, self centered, sarcastic” attitude (ad rep words, not mine!). As I’ve made my rounds at conventions and industry functions, I’ve had dozens of ad reps who do business with our company come to me to complain about my supervisor’s attitude. The reps tell me that they like my personality and that they respect my attitude, and they all say nearly the same thing: “This isn’t a big deal, BUT…your supervisor is a jerk and I don’t like dealing with his attitude. He makes me feel uncomfortable.”
It’s costing our company business and lowering our company’s reputation, but the owner (my supervisor’s boss) chooses to overlook the problem and make excuses for his attitude that “people don’t always ‘get’ his attitude.” The owner wants our company to flourish, and I’m at a crossroads because I think our owner would want to know how many people dislike my supervisor, but I also don’t want to shoot myself in the foot by coming across as a “tattle-tale.” Yet I also don’t want our ad reps to think that I’m not taking their concerns to heart. I’ve suggested that each rep discuss the problem with our owner, but they all say the same thing — Your owner is aware of the problem but doesn’t seem to care. What should I do?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY ARNIE HERZ, ESQ
Dear Concerned Employee,
You need to get beyond the “tattle-tale” fear.
The current dynamic is not serving anyone – the owner, the customers, you, the other employees, and even the supervisor. Something needs to shift the status quo or this company will be extinct in short order. And for you, it is clear that you are in need of a corporate environment that reflects your values of putting the customer first. Given that the current dynamic is not workable for you or anyone, and you are the one with some degree of passion to fix it, then it is time for you to speak up.
Organize your thoughts in anticipation of a meeting with the boss. Role play the anticipated conversation with a colleague or friend in advance. Like anything you do, rehearsal and practice is very important because it positions you for optimal success. Then, set up a meeting with the boss and tell him how you feel. For example, you could tell the boss that you very much enjoy working for the company, you care about the customers and you want to see the business thrive. Let him know how many customers have voiced complaints about the supervisor and how you believe it is imperative that the boss take steps to help the supervisor improve his customer relations skills. I believe the boss will appreciate your honesty and commitment and will take steps to fix the situation. And, if he does not, then you need to ask yourself “Is this the right work environment for me?”
If you think there is a risk of termination for speaking up, then before you have the conversation make sure you have your resume in good order and you are well positioned to find another job in a short time frame. Even if there is no risk of termination, it is always good to have other employment options available. It gives you the leverage and confidence you need to speak up and take a chance, and not remain locked in an unhealthy work environment.
Bottom line: Create leverage by finding viable employment options; speak your truth because it can make a huge difference for many people; congratulate yourself for having both great values and the courage to live and work in a way that aligns with your values.
Let me know how it goes. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Arnie Herz, is a lawyer, mediator, speaker, author and consultant nationally recognized for his practical and inspired approach to conflict resolution and client counseling. Visit his blog at LegalSanity.com
Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.