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Part II: I was let go unfairly. Should I tell Board Member?

Dear Office-Politics,

I have been working for four months as a database associate for a not for profit agency which is a social support community for those affected by cancer.

I cleaned up a mess left by a previous employee and was on top of my position delighting the CEO and Office Mgr.

Early on, I sensed some emotion from my OM. She was put on the spot in front of Board Members because of not running her reports to confirm information being entered into the database (my job and the employee before) was correct. She suggested I may want to do her job when she retires which was a little heavy for early on (it was my first week) in the position. I humbly told her I was flattered but didn’t think I had the experience to do her job. I said this as to not step on her toes and until this day I continuously rec’d compliments from everything from my outfits, to my looks, work performance you name it! I am a young woman with the looks of a model but am much more than skin deep and believe they started to think I was in the wrong place working in a social support community.

I believe my tact, professionalism, good looks, and efficiency made her uncomfortable. For months after, she consistently tried to ostracize me from the group, treating other members of the small office badly if they talked or acted friendly to me. They were all very intimidated by her.

I asked her a couple of weeks, prior to my dismissal, if I should be looking for another job because she was ostracizing me so badly and acting very cold.

She said it wasn’t her style to just leave me hanging not knowing my status and that I was OK. Weeks later she let me go stating that it would not be fair to me to have me in a position that didn’t fit me.

The biggest part and my question today is that I was very close to an important Board member. He and I worked very closely in my training early on. The Manager and CEO started to tell me not to call him or email him even though he was the person who created the database and would be my biggest resource to questions regarding the database.

I got suspicious but every time he was around he would tell me in front of all, to call him any time without hesitation. I believe they tried to limit my contact with him so I did not have him as my ally.

Bottom line, I think I was let go unfairly, and am thinking about letting him know the unfairness of how I was treated b/c in order to please my manager and CEO, I never told him of the contradictions in the messages I was receiving, i.e., manager and CEO telling me not to contact him and the member of the Board telling me to contact him anytime. Do you think he should know how I was strategically ostracized and the unfair treatment I believe I received? Could this make the Board aware of the culture in the office?

Please advise how I should handle this.

Thank you,

Miss Too Good to Be Treated Bad

timothy johnson

Dear Miss Too-Good-To-Be-Treated-Badly

How ironic: you were in an organization serving cancer victims and yet your very not-for-profit was experiencing a cancer of its own. That’s unfortunate, but alas, it is one of the realities of life.

Another one of the realities of life is that people who are called on the carpet are going to feel threatened. In your first week on the job, your OM was reprimanded for not doing her job; moreover, she had to sit back and watch you publicly cover her tail. Regardless of how you conducted yourself, that had to be humiliating for her.

I’ve had not-for-profit agencies as clients before, and there were two things I’ve observed about many (NOTE, I did not say all) of the employees who work there long-term:
1) they are territorial of their turf;
2) they are easily threatened by outsiders whom they perceive are treading on their turf.

A few years ago, I was doing an organizational diagnosis on one such agency and noted to my client management contacts how many of the longer-term employees felt threatened by technology, especially email. One employee took exception to this observation and sent me a seven-page HAND WRITTEN note telling me in no uncertain terms that she was NOT AFRAID of technology. Hmmm. Something didn’t line up.

So now you’ve been terminated by this OM whose tail you’ve covered, and you’re wondering if you should let your one perceived ally… a board member… know what really happened. I’m going to fall on the side of “no” here. You were instructed by your management not to contact him while you were still working there. What do you hope to achieve by talking to him now? One of the things I tell clients and students alike in taking action on an office politics situation is to consider the outcome. What is your desired “end state” of this situation? Is it to walk away with your head held high? Is it to take the events of the past few months and learn from it and use it in your future life experience? Or is it to get back at the wicked OM who screwed you over? If it’s the last one then take a deep breath, let out a huge primal scream, punch a nearby pillow, and get over it. I’ve found that the best revenge ever is just being the best YOU that you can be. If this board member and you are close, then he may reach out to you when he’s made aware of your departure. He will do so if whatever story he’s been told does not align with what he knows from his interactions. Keep the conversation between you cordial and professional, and see how you might leverage the relationship for future opportunities. If he brings up the circumstances surrounding your dismissal, just say something like, “Initially, I was also perplexed. However, I see now that it probably was not a good fit for me. I value the experience I gained, both technically and interpersonally. I’m using it to make me a more successful person later in life.” If you don’t get the chance to say that line to him, then say it to yourself a few times.

One final note: you mentioned your looks and appearance as being a threatening factor to this OM. You might talk to some of your trusted friends and colleagues to see how you are perceived in professional settings. This might be real or imagined, but since you brought it up, you might need to do some self-assessment to see if you come across as conceited or arrogant or intimidating in some circles. While I’m not saying that this was a factor in your dismissal, you might consider doing some research to head off any future issues with this.

Thanks for writing to office politics.

Best of luck,

Timothy Johnson, Author

Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.

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