Betrayed by a cutthroat co-worker
Others had told me “Paula” was cutthroat, but I hadn’t believed it until I became her prey of choice. I’d had my first warning when I’d walked into my office after a 10-day vacation and saw all of my carefully arranged project files disheveled.
I asked the administrative assistant to tell me who’d been in my office. She told me that Paula had “needed” some material from my desk, “discovered” a few “undone” assignments, and then gone to our mutual boss and offered to help.
Paula was nowhere to be seen. That’s when I learned she was with one of my clients. Next, I visited our boss and he told me he’d been “disappointed” to learn I’d left projects unfinished, that Paula had “jumped in to help” and in the process had learned that several key clients were “a bit” unhappy with me. I asked for the details and he said, “We might as well get this all out on the table.” He then brought Paula in and she presented what were lies or at least distortions. It was clear she’d had our boss’s ear and he wasn’t hearing anything she said for the first time.
I assured him that none of what she’d said could be true. Before I’d left for my vacation, I’d contacted each client and talked about next steps. Sure, no client wants a ten day hiatus, but they’d all been okay.
According to Paula, several clients asked in my absence if she could handle their accounts, including the client whose office she just left. I told my boss I’d call these clients and straighten things out. That’s when our boss told me that he didn’t want me calling the clients who’ve allegedly expressed the desire for Paula to be their rep, as we need to present a “united front” to our clients.
Clearly, my boss has bought what Paula has told him hook, line and sinker; thus eliminating my chance to get to the truth. What do I do now? After the meeting, Paula had the gall to tell me, “Sorry this happened.” All I could say was, “Nice to know you live down to your reputation.” Unfortunately, the administrative assistant, and office gossip, overheard me and I know what I said will make its way to my boss’s ears.
How do I recover?
Don’t do or say anything else until you’ve calmed down. You can’t afford to let Paula foot-sweep you into doing something stupid. Right now, your mutual boss sees Paula as an enterprising employee who’s helped the firm out with clients you left hanging. You also don’t know your boss’s role in the situation. He authorized Paula to help with your clients — were you on secure footing with him before this?
Either you blithely ignored client signals that they weren’t happy with you, or you should have set up a contingency plan for client needs when you were on vacation, or Paula has convinced several clients and your boss that your head’s not been in the game. Is there a kernel of truth to the fact that you let your clients down? Or, has Paula effectively discredited you?
If the former, lick your wounds, double-down, and do your absolute best with the clients you have left. You occupy an unfortunate zone on your boss’s radar.
If the latter, watch out. When cut-throat peers target you, you can’t afford to ignore it, take what they’ve done personally or react to their sideswipes. The mistakes you make only embolden them. Instead, you need to mount a counteroffensive.
Reach out to every client immediately. Let them know how seriously you take their needs. Present your boss with your game plan for ensuring total client satisfaction.
Next, you’ve said others told you Paula used cutthroat tactics. Who said what? Also, although you need to honor your boss’s request not to reach out to your former clients, nothing prevents you from detailing their former satisfaction with your efforts. You may ultimately present your boss this information, as you need to show your boss your best side and Paula’s other side.
How do you recover? Stop flailing about and focus. Play your “A” game with your remaining clients. And prepare your case for what’s really happened — you may need it.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.