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A Crisis Management Response to Personal and Professional Attacks
sinclair | March 20, 2022
What would you do if, just when you were about to land a large, commission paying account, you were defamed by your boss, threatened and terminated?
Your immediate thought might be to hire legal counsel. But, knowing that litigation can be expensive and unproductive, how else might you respond to such an attack on your current and future livelihood?
Mary (our usual alias, and nothing in this post should be considered an accurate recounting of real events) recently experienced this exact situation. She was hired less than a month ago as a contracted service provider to a high growth company to lead certain areas of revenue growth – specifically, directing her substantial network to purchase the company’s products or otherwise influence sales. Mary reported directly to an Officer of the company, who had known Mary from past work together and had recommended her for the job.
Two weeks into her new contract, Mary felt like she was performing well and she loved the association with her new client. The income was important to her and, as service providers do, she had passed on other opportunities to instead focus on this contract. She had approached all of her network, as she had promised, and had introduced that network directly to the company.
With the value of the network delivered, Mary’s boss then decided to push her out. The contract included a termination clause that allowed either party to terminate at any time, without reason or further obligation, including commissions. Therefore, all the boss had to do to terminate Mary was to send a short, formal notice. Instead, she chose a different path.
In private text messages, not intended to be correspondence from the company, the boss accused Mary of serious, unsavory behavior. The boss demanded that Mary immediately resign from her contract, not ever discuss the situation with the CEO (the boss’ boss) and not ever communicate with her network that had been introduced to the company.
If Mary did not concede to the boss’ demands, the boss threatened, in a written text message, to spread the smear to Mary’s other clients and to ruin her business. As it turns out, since Mary provides contractual services to some of my companies and Mary’s boss had also worked for me in the past, the boss threatened Mary in writing that her first call would be to Scott (me). I was being used as a pawn in a low-grade extortion scheme.
Mary called me on a Friday to discuss the matter and to seek my advice. She took no action over the weekend, which was a mistake, and Monday morning she received a termination notice from the Company, signed by the CEO. The notice gave no reason for the termination and made no reference to the drama with Mary’s boss.
What would you do in this situation? Here are some tips, taken from crisis and turnaround management, that should be considered if you find yourself in any similar situation:
- Remove Emotion. Crisis management requires objective priorities and action. You will not succeed when distracted by fear, hate or questions like “why is she doing this to me?
- Forget Root Causes. Understanding root causes may be useful for systemic, long-term issues, but not in a crisis. If you can’t get to work today because a car accident is blocking your intersection, do you need to know why the accident happened or do you just need the cars towed?
- Don’t Disregard Threats. When anyone threatens you with something negative, assume they are telling the truth. Sometimes a threat is just a threat, intended to elicit a response. But your best bet is to assume it’s true and to act accordingly.
- Act Now. Perception is reality. If your reputation is being damaged and your livelihood attacked, you need to frame the story before the misinformation becomes reality in people’s minds.
- Take the High Road. It may not be satisfying in the moment, but the high road is often the best you can do across time.
In this case, Mary was able to apply these principles. She did not fight the contract termination and did not personally attack her attacker. Rather, she professionally communicated the situation to the CEO and was able to negotiate reasonable accommodations.