This letter was created for a 2011 Letters To My Younger Self ® Seminar
Denise Quinn is a Vice President in a large insurance company, where she oversees strategic projects and also leads various projects within its marketing and distribution division.
Before this career, Denise worked for a large retailer, which was the setting for one of her most vivid business experiences. She was a department manager in her mid-twenties when her boss, who was going on vacation, asked her to step in for him at a routine senior management meeting with the big boss—the store manager.
So, she attended the meeting as the most junior person at the table. Shortly after the meeting began, the store manager, who was a French immigrant, proceeded to yell at Denise in French and English for 15 excruciating minutes.
Denise, of course, was stunned and paralyzed. The vehement anger pouring out of this manager, the intensity of his emotional tidal wave, prevented her from really understanding what he was talking about. As she sat directly across from him, absorbing his barrage, she tried so hard not to cry that one eye began twitching involuntarily. When the meeting was over she went to her desk, picked up her stuff and walked out.
This is the moment that Denise, now 45, is choosing to write to her younger self.
You are still reeling from that shocking verbal attack. Your heart is racing and your body feels numb. Right now you couldn’t even say what the store manager was so angry about.
But as you drive back to your grandmother’s house, you’re realizing that his outburst isn’t what truly bothers you. You’ve witnessed that man being irrational before.
No. What really hurts is that not one of the senior managers stood up for you. They saw the store manager berating you unfairly. They knew you were having a hard time handling it. And they just let it happen.
What should you do now?
First, look at where you come from, Denise. Your parents never screamed and yelled. No one in your world ever has. It’s not surprising that you sat there in strangled silence. You’ve had absolutely no experience with this behavior.
That changed today. Now, you must learn how to stand up for yourself. You can’t count on anyone else to do it for you.
There’s no single way to protect yourself, so develop several approaches. You could simply say, “This is inappropriate,” and excuse yourself from the meeting right away. Or you could say, “If there’s an issue here, we should take this conversation to a private setting.”
You could challenge the attacker, or counter attack. But that’s not really your style. Respect your own process here. Give yourself time to let your emotions settle. Try to understand what may actually be valid in an attacker’s tirade.
But most important, make it crystal clear to the abuser that you must be treated with respect. And describe what that kind of treatment looks like. Believe it or not, some people don’t know.
If you learn how to stand up for yourself—professionally and personally—you’ll stand taller. You’ll feel stronger. Denise…you’ll be stronger.
Your best ally,