He was new to the company, and she was assigned to help him learn his territory. They were sales reps for a national electrical supply manufacturer. Their region had been growing in recent years and the decision was made to split it in half. That particular region had more than sixty clients. Corporate wanted to increase the contacts reps could have with clients, so the decision was made to split the region between two reps, so bi-weekly instead of monthly visits could be made. After he was acclimated to the zone, he would take half of the clients and she would retain the other half.
By the end of the first week, it was clear to him that she was a bit of an interpersonal bully. If she believed in something, she really believed it. And because she did, she found it difficult to accept that anyone could possibly disagree. There was one right opinion on every topic and one right answer to every question. That was true of everything from the best restaurants and movies to religion and politics.
Some found her well-intended seeing her as a person who only wanted to share what she thought to be good and right. Others found her to be narrow-minded, aggressive, and at times uncomfortably confrontational. And then there were those who just kind of ignored her, knowing that their thoughts and opinions were of no interest to her, and that she would not even listen let alone consider them.
He was in a difficult position. He was dependent on her for getting him started, so he saw no other option but to tolerate her aggressiveness. At first, he was comfortable with that, giving her the benefit of the doubt and trying to believe that she was just working to help him. But as his time with her continued, it became clear that that wasn’t the case. He sensed that she realized that he was dependent on her, and she was taking advantage of that relationship. Also, he wanted to learn the region, not her every thought and opinion. For a time, he simply tried to ignore her. With no desire to become confrontational, when she launched into one of her totally un-work-related rants on the current state of politics, he just let her go. That worked right up until the time when it no longer did!
Not content to just share her political opinions, she began probing, questioning, and at times challenging him. As days turned into weeks, it was not only uncomfortable, but it was interrupting their work. She knew the territory, so for her it became more important that she share her political thoughts, musings, and opinions than working to acclimate him to his new responsibilities.
When she launched into one of her discussions that more than once had turned into somewhat of a mini-tirade, he tried to change the subject back to work-related topics. Sometimes that would slow her down a bit, but then she was right back at it after the next stop. He made his mind up that he had had enough, when she called him out for trying to change the subject during one of her rants, saying “Don’t change the subject, what I’m telling you is important.”
He had some things he wanted to say, but he sensed that any comments from him would only escalate into a confrontation, and as a newbie with the company, he wasn’t willing to risk that. He decided to try a more subtitle approach. Instead of trying to actively engage during her political diatribes, he tried just being an active listener giving no indications of either agreement or disagreement. That only worked for a limited time.
The final straw came when, in the midst of one of her tirades, she paused, look at him and said, “Are you paying attention to what I’m trying to tell you.” The timing could not have been better for him.
They were in the parking lot where he had parked his car that morning. They both lived outside their territory, so they met each morning, he parked his car, and she drove since she knew the territory. In a polite manner that unmistakably showed his intent, he said, “Thanks for the ride, this is my stop. Enjoy the rest of your day.” That move changed their working relationship.
Every once in a while, you’ve got to know when to disengage from a conversation. For a multitude of reasons, avoiding confrontation is essential, but equally essential is setting reasonable conversational limits on what you’ll tolerate. It’s up to you to determine how far you’ll allow someone to go in their efforts to push their personal agenda, until you share that you have arrived at your stop!