Ask Sherry: My boss called me ‘sensitive’, do I say something?
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So my boss called me ‘sensitive’ and I want to know how to address this with him because it is not sitting right with me.
Background: I am relatively new, joined less than a year ago.
We signed a millions-of-dollars contract with a vendor to deliver marketing materials and a whole advertising campaign for our global company. We really wanted something that would showcase projects and the breadth of our offerings that we could use in various markets, different cities and for a long time to come.
After months of frustration with the vendor, long story short, they delivered something I think I could have done at home with Microsoft clip art and Powerpoint, I was underwhelmed and shocked at their level of unprofessionalism.
So, I fired them. Everyone agreed it was the right thing to do after seeing the marketing materials and campaigns they delivered for the price we would pay them, but my boss though he accepted the decision, said I was “being too sensitive”.
It took me aback because I was being professional, and using the facts of what I was presented; I had a certain level of expectations, and a standard for what we were paying for as a company, and they didn’t meet it after months of working with them, and it made me quite angry to be honest.
I understand that I was emotionally charged and maybe venting a little, which may have coloured things a bit, but how do I address his usage of “sensitive” to describe what just happened?
Do I just let it go?
My instinct is to ask:
What was your boss’s interest in saying that?
Did he get a kickback? Did they wine and dine him? How about gifts? Tickets to games? Did he recommend them in the first place? He is related to someone in the company?
There is a reason he said it, and before I jump into what I think it probably is, I’d like you to also be aware that in a lot of companies, I’ve seen Directors defend TO THE DEATH, an underperforming vendor, only to find out later that the owners were friends of said Director. *cough*
Don’t let it go
If you’re willing to bring it up, don’t let it go and fester in the back of your mind, and allowing him to keep/reinforce his perception of the situation.
It is tricky.
I’d phrase it maybe in a way that is like you asking for feedback:
“In regards to that vendor we fired – you made a comment calling me ‘sensitive’ that I’d like your feedback and perspective on.”
Don’t make it a defensive thing or “Oh it’s because I am a woman that you said that” thing even though you know it is something that happens often and studies have proven time and time again that women are hysterical and sensitive when they get angry, but men are confident leaders. And don’t even get me started on what they say when you’re a woman of colour!
After he is done explaining and to get more info on the situation, you could say something along the lines of:
“Okay. I wasn’t leading with emotions in this decision which is something I’d like to make clear.
I was looking at the facts of the results which are ________.
From my perspective, they were not up to what I expected which was ____.
As we are giving them millions in business, I held them to my standards of what I expected from them as deliverables.
What did you expect from them? Did what they show you accurately represent the quality you expected for that money?”
And then you’ll have to wing it, but keep those points in mind that you cannot come off as defensive or angry (I KNOW), you cannot hassle him on the word ‘sensitive’, and you need to make it CLEAR to him that you weren’t using emotions to fire them because you were frustrated.
You’re using facts, and the results were showing that they simply didn’t meet your expectations.
Maybe he sees you as competition
Consider that nice people don’t make it into the corner office.
If you are always listening to everyone’s sob story, letting employees slack, overlooking the team and not making sure they are following directives because you’re trying to be nice, liked, and a friend, you aren’t likely to make it far – man or woman.
The fact that you are able to fire someone, and be ‘strong’ in that sense, in your opinion and conviction, makes you competition, even if you are under him.
You could one day, be at his level or above him. Instinctively, he could be trying to diminish the competition by undermining you as a threat to his job/level/promotion/security at the company.
Update: He called her sensitive again
She let it go because you can’t argue with these people.
The only question to ask next time is:
What would you have done in my situation, instead?
And see what they say. They may then realize you did exactly what you would have done/did and are indeed, not sensitive, but… doing what they would have done!
Still have a burning question?