Be careful when being "frank" with people.
I had only been in the office for a week and had already pinpointed the reason for the sad state of morale in the division. One thing that was never touched on in college business studies was navigating the day-to-day interactions of employees. I thought back to my high school years and dealings with the “Mean Girls” that ruled the hallways. If you learned those lessons, you can pretty much survive anything. I heaved a sigh and turned my attention back to the bank statement in front of me.
All week long, I had listened to the snide and condescending commentary from the woman seated across the aisle. Casual cruelty, in the guise of truth telling, was hidden behind a thin veneer of sarcastic humor. I wondered if I would ever be the recipient of some scathing remark about my looks or personality or job performance.
Today, Georgine seemed to be in rare form. The mail clerk came through the office on his daily rounds. When he stopped by her desk she said to him, “You didn’t take my advice and go to the dermatologist, I see. Jamie, you would be a really good looking boy if you’d do something about your skin.”
Jamie, an intern working with us for the spring college semester, blushed with embarrassment.
“Too busy with my classes, Mrs. Halloran,” he said. “I have to wait until the semester is done.”
“Suit yourself,” Georgine harrumphed.
Jamie exchanged pleasantries with the other accountants as he delivered their mail. He had a quick wit and a big smile for everyone he greeted. Truth be told, he was a really good-looking young man. As far as I was concerned, Georgine was overly concerned with a couple of breakouts on his forehead. For Pete’s sake! I had breakouts on my face from time to time and I am old enough to be Jamie’s mother!
Georgine saw me watching the intern make his way across the room.
“Isn’t it such a shame about that young man,” she asked?
Against my better judgment I said, “ No, it’s a shame that you feel the need to put Jamie on the spot like that. I see nothing wrong with the way he looks.”
Georgine looked a bit shocked at my response. After all, I had only been with the group a week.
“Well, I believe in calling things the way I see them,” she said. “People need to hear the truth even if it isn’t what they want to hear. Eventually, he will thank me for it, you’ll see.”
I put my pen down and folded my hands on the desk.
“There is a little concept known as being tactful. It does work wonders with people,” I said quietly.
“I prefer being quite frank with people. That way there is no misunderstanding my meaning,” she replied with what looked like a sniff.
I considered what she had said. Picking up my pen, I tapped it on the desk a few times, considering my response.
“Yes, you are right. Sometimes being frank, as you put it, is the correct course of action.”
By this time, everyone in the room was listening to our exchange. As I got up from my desk and approached her, every eye in the room was on us.
“I have watched and listed to your interaction with everyone in this department and have found your attitude and behavior galling. Promotion to department head is no longer an option for you.
I need someone running this department who can manage people with respect and tact. I just do not see you capable of doing that. Perhaps with some training and a major attitude adjustment, you may eventually become management material.
You have the rest of the day off to consider transferring to another division or leaving altogether. The choice is yours. And to answer your unasked question, I am Ellie Weston, the owner of this firm.”
In the week that I had worked quietly to assess her capabilities, I had never seen Georgine as much at a loss for words as she was at that moment. She picked up her purse and cell phone and walked to the office door. Before turning the doorknob, she turned to give me a parting shot.
“Well, I never!”
“I know, “ I said with a satisfied grin. “I think that has been your problem all along. No one has ever really been “frank” with you.”