She lost her job in the economic crash of 2008. She had few options, but she knew the nursery business. She was good at it, so she decided to start a small operation of her own. The first year or two was slow, but by the third year, she had built up a clientele, hired a few folks, and she was doing okay. Over the next two years, business seemed to take off. She went into lawn care, landscaping, and snow removal. With almost thirty employees, she was bigger than the company she had worked for, when she lost her job.
The next year, she bought out her former employer.
She agreed to keep all of the employees from the company she bought. For several years before the crash, they had been her peers. Like any group, they had had their periodic ups and downs, squabbles, and riffs. She wanted to let those in the past, particularly with the guy who had been her supervisor. She knew that their now reversed roles were going to be tough for him.
She divided her employees into crews, with each crew having a chief. She had a meeting each week on Monday morning at 6:00 AM,with the crew chiefs. They reviewed the past week and set plans for the week ahead. As a way of avoiding hard feelings with her former supervisor, she made him a crew chief. He was good at his job, and she hoped it would set a better tone between them. Sadly, he failed to recognize what she was trying to do for him.
Week after week he found something about which to complain. He’d find fault with something, and then call her out during the meeting. Initially she ignored him, or at least she tried to. Finally, she went to a work site and asked to speak with him privately, which she routinely did with crew chiefs. She asked why he found it necessary to confront her at every meeting.
“What, don’t I have the right to speak?”
Sensing that this conversation was going nowhere, she dropped it. He was a good worker and a good supervisor. She decided to just tolerate it a bit longer, hoping that her efforts to talk with him may have some good effect over time.
Instead of taking the hint, he doubled down more antagonistically. His comments at Monday meetings became even more petty. She wasn’t prepared to fire him, but she was not going to tolerate him any longer either.
At the end of a particularly aggravating exchange with him one Monday morning, she asked him to stay. Reluctantly he did. Flopping himself back into his chair after everyone else had left, he said, “Let’s get this over with, I’ve got work to do.”
“I know you do. Remember, you work for me.” The look on his face indicated clearly that he wasn’t expecting that comment. When he was her supervisor, she was also so cautious about how she spoke to him. In the months he had worked for her, she had showed him the same deference.
She sat down and continued. “My Grandmother had a phrase to describe when people tried to embarrass others and call them out in front of a group. She said people who do that like to “frying other peoples’ eggs.” Well, you seem to like frying my eggs every time we meet. Heretofore, I’ve always tried to rise above your uncomfortable and embarrassing personal comments directed at me. I’ve shown you respect.” He sat silently. It was clear she had his attention.
“Civility and kindness in our meetings are important me. I welcome open and frank discussion, but I’m done with your weekly egg fries at my expense. You’ve set the tone and temper of our meetings, and that’s going to change. And please notice, I’m speaking with you anddoing so not in front of the group. I could fire you, but I’m not going to, you’re a good supervisor and a good arborist. Actually, you’re really good.”
He sat up in his chair. His attitude had changed.
“But here’s what you need to know. The next time you turn up the heat and start frying my eggs, I’m going to join you at the stove, so I can fry a few for you at the same time. Courtesy and empathy for the feelings of others are important to me, and you’ve taken advantage of that up to this point. You assumed I wouldn’t respond in kind to your hurtful comments. Next Monday, let’s see if together we can bring a more productive and respectful tone to our meetings. The choice is yours!”
If you’re an egg fryer, it may be time to drop the spatula!