The Sticky Work Situation

What happens when a colleague or superior tries to take you down in a group meeting? How do you react? If you were me in a former life, you’d lash out right away in defense. You’ll show them!

It never works. It’s not effective and, in fact, you come off looking worse.

Here’s what I’ve learned through hard-earned lessons and savvy coaching on how to improve this all-too-common work scenario:

You’re in a meeting and your co-worker paints you in a bad light, implying that you are not contributing to the team, or you can’t get your message across, or dismisses you because you are not in charge or even because of your gender. (The co-worker, sadly, can be male or female. And it’s even more painful coming from a woman, IMO. For our purposes, let’s keep him male.)

You have three options on how to react:

  1. You do nothing and stay silent.

  2. You rigorously fight back.

Both approaches are misguided. The first shows weakness or even acceptance of the put-down. The second backfires and digs you into a deeper hole.

3. Don’t react right away when someone acts in a demeaning manner. Ask, rather, in a confident and calm manner, “What did you mean by your comment, so I have a better understanding?”

The benefits of this approach are three-fold:  

  1. It buys time so that you have an opportunity to think.  

  2. The accuser may change or soften his statement when given the chance to elaborate.

  3. He may become even more aggressive, which will paint him and his point-of-view as irrational.

Of course, there is the fourth case where, by asking follow-up questions, I come to understand what he is getting at and realize that he has a point.  

I admit it: I may have screwed up.  

(But hardly ever.)

How have you handled a sticky situation at work?