Matt and Jack are consultants whom my boss holds in high esteem. They are from out of town and were booked to work with our team in our office for a limited time, so I had left my schedule fairly open on the day to be flexible around them and their meetings with other team members. They kept putting me off until the end of the day – at which point I had only 20 mins space for them before I had an important meeting set up with another person.
Prior to this meeting I had spoken to Jack several times in person and by Skype about the topic of the meeting (and we seemed to be on the same wavelength), and had one joint Skype meeting with Matt and Jack together. I had set up a shared Google document for us to use to brainstorm and converse on the topic – which neither of them had contributed to or commented on.
I sat down with them and proceeded to bring them up to speed. It was clear neither of them had read my correspondence, however more alarming was the change in tone I saw in Jack under Matt’s influence. Where previously Jack was every bit as excited about what I’d told him as I was, today he was following Matt’s lead. And Matt was being incredibly patronising, egotistical, negative, trying to tell me what to do (in a field that is not his expertise, when he hadn’t read the briefing documents I’d sent, etc). Jack followed Matt’s lead and took on a patronising tone, treating me like a child.
I could not believe what they were doing. More interested in listening to their own voices, in their own egotistical sense of ‘authority’, than having an intelligent informed discussion – I simply couldn’t believe what was happening. In a flash of anger I called them on it, and told them to stop being so patronising. Matt told me he found me incredibly rude. I said I found his patronisation to be rude.
Due to them delaying our meeting till the end of the day I only had a short period of time before I had to get to my next meeting – so I had to excuse myself before we’d solved the issue. I said we’d have to talk about this more another day.
Later that afternoon as I was getting ready to go home, Jack pulled me aside to apologise. He said he realised that he and Matt had come at things the wrong angle. Equally, I apologised for losing my temper, and assured him it was all water under the bridge. While I would love his and Matt’s help on my project, if they didn’t want to be part of it (for example, were worried about workload) I could proceed without them.
The next day my boss called me aside for a ‘talk.’ By this point I’d come to realise that meant something bad. She went straight on the attack, saying that Matt and Jack had made a complaint about me. She said that she’d already had to speak to me about being ‘rude’ (see Second Incident), that Matt was extremely important to the project, that I needed to be better at ‘making friends’, and that I had to apologise. I asked her: didn’t she even want to hear the other side of what happened?
When I had originally told my boss about what I wanted to do she had been excited by my ideas and asked me to involve Matt and Jack. I told her that Matt had categorically rejected these same ideas, without even listening. That ultimately if he didn’t want to be involved he needn’t be, however it wasn’t his position to tell me not to proceed when this was my core role and expertise. I wasn’t telling Matt how to do his job (I respect his opinion within his own expertise); he had no right to try to tell me how to do mine.
I relayed to my boss what Matt’s opinion was as to what I should do – a simultaneously stupid and boring idea that had my boss rolling her eyes and exclaiming “Boys!”
I agreed that I shouldn’t have lost my temper, and pointed out that Jack and I had already made up of our own accord (that Jack said himself they had been wrong to approach me the way they had).
My boss seemed to see a bit more sense about this. Still she rebuked me, said that I had to work on getting along with people like Matt, that I needed to ‘listen’ to his wisdom, and that I needed to apologise to Matt officially. I agreed to do so. I certainly felt ashamed for losing my temper. Matt had pushed all the buttons my big brother used to push when I was a kid, made me feel small, insignificant and powerless – and I hated that I’d given into my emotion in the moment and given him that control and ammunition.
I sent Matt and Jack a long email of apology. It wasn’t a complete suck up email: I politely and diplomatically apologised, re-explained the position I was coming from, the seeming misunderstanding, that they needn’t be part of it if they didn’t want to, that I would appreciate their input if they cared to share it, and that I was sorry for losing my temper and having to cut the meeting short to get to my next meeting.
Neither Matt nor Jack so much as acknowledged the apology.
And a few months later, after I had taken their advice on the topic over my own better judgement, when I presented to the team the outcome… They hated Matt’s idea, thought it was stupid and off topic, and made suggestions in line with my original ideas that had since been discarded at Matt and my boss’s insistence.