Advice Requested: Business Travelers in Hostile Work Environments

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by yunicorner, Mar 12, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. yunicorner
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    yunicorner Silver Member

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    I know there are a bunch of business travelers out there and I was hoping I could get some advice. Have any of you entered a hostile work environment either with your own company or with a company you were conducting business with? Did the people you were working with or for get verbally abusive, treat you like a guilty party from the moment you arrived and/or make unreasonable demands? If so, what did you do to overcome these issues? I'm looking for success stories. Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    As a guy often called in to help evaluate why something went wrong and to figure out who's fault it was, I am frequently seen as an adversary from the moment I arrive on a site. When someone thinks you're out to get them fired the environment is rarely what would be considered friendly. While I haven't had to deal with overly abusive verbal behavior I certainly have been made to feel rather unwelcome.

    My approach always has been to simply be 100% professional and to kill them with kindness. I go out of my way to be nice and polite, even in the face of the uncomfortable situation and I do everything in my power to make it clear that I'm simply a professional doing my job. They can hate me for that and try to make my life miserable but I'm still going to do my job and be a professional. If they choose to be an immature moron that's their choice.

    It certainly takes a strong sense of self-confidence (and in my case, from time to time a strong liver) but it has mostly worked out OK.
     
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  3. Sam Axe
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    Sam Axe Silver Member

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    I've had some of my company's staff be verbally abused and disrespected by a client's staff during a contentious meeting, and they who knew better than to do so when I was around as they'd known me for a number of years. Our staff knew to just laugh it off at the time and then bring it up with me privately.

    I made an appointment with the deputy director of the agency, flew down and discussed some other business, and then brought the issue up and pointed out that my company's HR policy meant that I had to treat the abuse as if it had come from one of my employees, which meant that the next call would be from my company's HR director to the agency's HR director. I left without speaking to any of the client's offending staff, but let it be known through the grapevine that I had been there to bring up project concerns.

    The problem went away rather quickly.

    So my question for OP is: who is your account manager for that client, and can you have a reasonable conversation with him or her about the abuse you're getting? If not, what is your HR situation like?
     
  4. Punki
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    Punki Silver Member

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    What are the circumstances of the situation? How long will you be required to work with these people? Are these people considerably older than you? Are they women?

    I can remember a situation when I was young and beautiful, like you, when a group of older women in my firm took it upon themselves to try to make my life miserable. My boss and most of the senior partners (all men) adored me, which, of course, was part of the problem, and always took my side, giving me lots of privileges and supported me in everything I wanted to do. In that case I just tried to be as nice as I could and ignored their petty behavior.

    The truth was, they just weren't very happy people. I remeber once in the lunch room when they were all complaining about how much they hated their jobs. Another, younger, employee suggested that they look for another job that they liked better, and they all turned on him and attacked him like he had suggested that they go out and commit some henious crime.

    People's unhappiness is almost always caused by something within themselves. All you can do is be nice and try to make them feel better about themselves.
     
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  5. yunicorner
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    yunicorner Silver Member

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    Strong liver haha! I've used the kill-them-with-kindness routine in the past but looking back it seems very passive aggressive. In the end, you still suffer emotionally and physically because those people don't change. It's sorta like validating that what they are doing is ok.

    That is very interesting to hear that HR policies can cross over to another company. It's good to know that the client respected you enough to stop the nonsense. Not sure if this resolution can be applied to other situations but it's definitely something to research. I'm going to refrain from specifics but thanks for the advice.

    Yes, it seems impossible to change unhappy people. Misery loves company? I'm going to refrain from specifics but I am curious to know if you were able to keep ignoring those women without ever confronting them. I would think ignoring them would cause the pettiness to escalate.
     
  6. Punki
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    Punki Silver Member

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    I didn't ignore them so much as I ignored their pettiness--I actually tried to be very nice to them. I was in my early 20s and a law student, working in a mega firm in Southern California. I worked in investigations which was a sort of a different animal, that ran by different rules than the rest of the firm. Sometime I had to get money for a job before it was a job and had a job number--this made the accounting people crazy. I also got to travel to trials and spend a lot of time out of the office which made them even crazier. They were old (probably as old as 40) :D :D and in all likelihood stuck in their same boring jobs for the rest of their lives. I could see why they envied me and I was so happy with my life that I could go out of my way to try a little harder with them. Honestly, however, there was always some resentment no matter how nice I tried to be.
     
  7. jupper
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    jupper Silver Member

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    My approach depends on the situation. For example, when dealing with security incidents, I usually sit down with the (front line) people involved and make it clear to them that the goal is to get a better environment in the end. So I request them to give me stuff they've brought up before that might be relevant, after all, a lot of managers won't see the value in something their own people cooked up until an expensive or esteemed outsider confirms it. Most often I ask the question to the techies do you want me to send a nasty threatening letter to the management, so that they take your advice seriously ? Guess what the answer is ? ;)

    Again it all matters very much on the setting, people and organizational structure. If you believe you're being hampered in your work, do make a note of it for your company / HR process, if only for reference purposes. Also, don't be oblivious to the political role you might be performing when at the job, there might be very different reasoning behind the specific job then what was put into the job description...
     
  8. ctporter
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    ctporter Silver Member

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    When I arrive on a job site, most often the client is very much aware that if I am not satisfied it will end up costing them much more money. That can make them resentful both for the time it takes (down time in production) for me to do my evaluations but also the perceived costs that they already have incurred and what they think they will incur to fix their equipment without a valid reason. So, for jobs like mine, workplace tips in no particular order that work for me are:
    1. Acknowledge the competency and skills of the client by discussing current systems in place that meet the standards or show evidence of compliance or are above and beyond minimums.
    (in some ways this goes back to parents at a Tball game yelling encouragement to the kids. From the time we all are small through the time we no longer care, we all can use validation when things are done well or correctly)
    2. Show the client the clause of a standard they are not in compliance with and discuss why the clause is there.
    Don't come across as arbitrary, or because "I said so", help the client understand why they must comply, how it makes their equipment safer, more productive, better for maintenance, etc.
    3. Be open to creative solutions, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
    4. Be calm, courteous, cordial and professional even when the client is not. Humor works well as long as it is understated. (obviously no off color jokes or jokes not politically correct, you never know where strangers are coming from)
    5. Listen to what the client says, repeat it back to see if what you hear is what they are saying. (and vice versa) Having them read a clause/requirement/policy (or state their thoughts) and have them tell you what it means can show where the lack of communications are which then can help calm them down and move to resolutions.
     
  9. Sam Axe
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    Sam Axe Silver Member

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    The abusing staff didn't particularly respect me. But they feared the deputy director, whom they knew respected me. :)
     

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