Your hours are 8 to 5. Your lunch time is between 11 & 1.

I don’t want to have this conversation again.

She followed up with an email stating four arbitrary rules, similar to this one.

My son’s elementary school concert was at 2:00 so I thought I’d skip lunch, go to the concert, and if it took a bit longer than the half hour, I’d work past 5 to make up the time. Granted, we had that conversation a few months before and her response with a condescending smile was:

Sarah, lunch is between 11 & 1! You can take vacation time to go the concert.

I was not a shift worker. Maybe she missed the part of my job that said I was not hired with hours restricted by the times the phone must be answered. Perhaps she missed all the positive feedback we had received as a successful project team, particularly in reporting to our funders, and she felt compelled to micromanage me.

Whatever her issue, what she was saying was that she didn’t trust me to get my work done – and that she was in control.

It was tempting to respond to the message with a similar tone. It was tempting to unleash a torrent of frustration via an email message, explaining that I am a professional, that her attempts at control were counter-productive.

It was tempting to make a laundry list of her bad management practices, using specific examples of cruel things she said to me that affected my motivation and my confidence. I typed that list into a text document. I unleashed every frustration I had for the year I had worked for her, revealing the defensive, sad and angry feelings I had been experiencing for months. I listed every hurtful incident in that document.

Then I printed it and closed it without saving it anywhere so I could take it home with me. I started my email response, closed the draft, and waited until the next day before finishing it and hitting the send button.

Thank goodness for the advice I was given years before.

Always wait a minimum of 24 hours before sending anything you write while angry or frustrated.

I’ve added to that advice over the years. When I share the advice with others, I include any messages where the tone can be misinterpreted. I always suggest that when tone is really important, a phone call should be made to explain the email prior to hitting the send button. That advice has saved me many tense conversations, I’m sure. Of course, there continue to be times I hit that send button before really thinking through the message and audience.

I’ve consciously hit that send button with the thought in the back of my head: “I just sabotaged myself.” Those incidents are getting fewer each year and each job. Maybe it’s the old adage that with age comes wisdom? Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not quite as impulsive as I used to be. Either way, the lessons I learned from that job continue to work for me, I just have to re-read them every few months.

Sometimes you have to send the message, to speak up and speak against harmful behavior. If you’re going to send it, be prepared for the consequences. And make sure you’re very clear about how you want this to end.

  • Postscript: I did go to my son’s concert and took vacation time to do it. After all, she was my boss! I also started looking for a new job the next day. Clearly this one wasn’t a good fit.

Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

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