Workplace stress, difficult behaviors and team conflict

Dear Joan:

It was funny when Lou Grant (the television producer) bellowed for his employees from his cave of an office and they all came running. Twenty years later, it’s not so funny when our editor bellows to us (eight women) from his office and expects us to jump and run in to see him.  

I think this is sexist, rude and uncalled for behavior. We’ve asked him to use the phone or intercom and he won’t.  

Now our sixteen-year-old male intern is doing the same thing—bellowing our names when he has a question. I’m new to the job and I don’t want to rock the boat. How can I handle this? The worst part is he’s leading a “leveraging diversity” workshop for the company next week… 

Answer:

Mary Tyler Moore was a groundbreaker; a single girl in a newsroom, battling for credibility in a man’s world. A lot has changed, but, unfortunately, old stereotypes die hard. 

While I can understand why your editor’s behavior is infuriating, let’s step back and examine it within a larger context. Does he do anything else that conveys disrespect? Would he bellow to his staff whether they are women or men?  

Okay, it’s a lousy management style and he doesn’t win Manager of the Year in my book, but is this worth going to the mat over? The fact remains: he is still your boss. Yes, it is disconcerting that at least some of you have asked him to change his behavior and he “won’t.” I don’t have enough data to know why he won’t or if he is equally insensitive to other staff requests. 

A more tuned in leader would respond quickly and modify his approach. Your editor sounds like an old school guy who grew up in newsrooms with gruff, Lou Grant kinds of editors. There is a good chance your boss doesn’t have a clue as to why his bellowing might be offensive. Perhaps it’s what he’s experienced and the only way he knows how to act.  

Is it appropriate? Not exactly. Is it worth rocking the boat over? In my opinion—no. Not unless there are other disrespectful behaviors the group finds demeaning.  

However, if there is more that you haven’t shared, then perhaps the women of the office do need to unite and let him know how they feel. There is no excuse for disrespectful, sexist behavior. However, in your letter, I don’t know if he is like this with everyone or just women. 

If you all do feel that he needs to hear from you about his behavior, do so in a calm and straightforward way. Tell him how his behavior makes you feel and how it affects your reaction to him as your boss. Tell him that dropping everything to run in seems demeaning. Ask if he could schedule one-on-one meetings where assignments and changes could be discussed. If last minute directives are necessary, tell him you may respond to his verbal shouts by picking up your phone and responding via intercom or phone conversation. 

On the other hand, the sixteen-year-old intern is not your boss. Plainly tell him that you prefer to be asked questions either face to face, via a phone call or through the intercom. Explain that you are too busy to jump up every time he calls. If he has many questions, suggest that he write them down and meet with one of you regularly to get answers. Perhaps his “mentors” can be rotated, so the burden doesn’t fall on one person.  

In the final analysis, I suspect that these behaviors have been learned through years of modeling and mimicking. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to bring the subject up during the diversity training; however I’d do so without pointing a finger directly at him and publicly embarrassing him. You might discuss it under the category of ingrained behavior that is unintentional but perceived as disrespectful--and made even worse when it’s a male boss with an all female staff. Educate him-- don’t attack and you will raise his level of enlightenment. You may even get a buzz instead of a bellow next time.   


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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