Battle with grace


There was this lady in the team, Magalie. French, with arabic roots. Big eyes, american smile. Speech, body language and eyes saying three different things. Typical covert aggressive. Soft spoken in public, bitter and aggressive in private. It was Eva’s first week at her new in charge of an international project with nationals and internationals onboard.  Eva gets a sms from Magalie with an urgent request for a meeting. She seemed in distress over phone so Eva goes to meet her. She spills venom. Accusations of sexism against a colleague. She says he is constantly humiliating her in public, hates her, disregards her, and she cannot talk to him because she is afraid of him. She claims this has been going on for a year and a half. Eva asks then whether she talked about it with the previous 3 project managers. She says no. Why would Magalie put this now on Eva’s shoulders? Magalie accepts reluctantly Eva’s offer: a meeting for the two of them to talk and clarify it. Seven months later Eva hears exact the same words concerning her from her supervisor’s supervisor: “Magalie says you humiliate her in public, you hate her, you disregard her and she cannot talk to you”.  Magalie met Eva’s supervisor in a private set up when Eva was on leave, taking advantage of her absence.  Eva is speechless as she hears this.  She was not given with an opportunity to present her views and facts. She could only say she treats all equally and professionally. Three nights after the meeting, Eva is sleepless. Her heart hurts. Ignatia amara is the remedy which eases the pain and brings a change of perspective. Confronting the person, asking for a meeting with the supervisor were the first strategies Eva thought of. A natural defense reaction. She met three colleagues who she knows have been through  a similar experience. They give her a good piece of advice: check whether she filed anything formally and find out remedies available to defend myself. Otherwise treat it as someone saying something to someone. If your supervisor accepts a friendship with such a person it probably says something about him/her. Another wise colleague of Eva’s dropped a wise phrase “there was a snake even in Eden”.image Eva mentioned this situation to her sponsor from the organisation providing funds to the project. He said he knows and that Eva shall not worry about it. A day before he passed the message to Eva’s supervisors how happy they are with Eva. Some readers might see themselves in Eva. Magalies usually do not do mirror work.  For this and other reasons any confrontation is useless. At a first meeting after the “complaint”, Magalie avoided any eye contact with Eva. It did not preclude Eva from reaching the objectives the meeting had. Two months later, at an appraisal team meeting with the management, colleagues spontaneously shared how happy they were with the project manager. Much to Eva’s surprise. She was humbled by the open and warm appreciation colleagues hold of her. After the meeting, she received an email from the management about how pleased they were to hear so much genuine appreciations of Eva’s work. To arm yourself, acknowledge that these people have no notion of fair play. Never have one to one meetings with these people. Always cc your impartial supervisor in correspondence with them. Make sure you have a supporters network who will provide in a positive and constructive way their views on how you do your job and interact with them. Ask for feedback from colleagues, in writing if possible, even in an environment not practicing 360 degree evaluations. Constantly feed your sponsor and supervisor with information on what you do so that there is no void or gap prone to make room for misunderstandings. Open, peaceful, detached communication with all who want and/or need to hear is key. Sooner or latter even those in the monologue mood will start to listen. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. Art by Ana Maria Negara, at Traian Grand Hotel, Iasi, Romania, December 2013

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