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Friday, July 26, 2013

The choices we make

I am thinking about the choices I make, although sadly I do this more often in reflection rather than in advance of an action.  One particular occasion brings to mind the opportunity for greatness and also the more predictable path chosen.

I had the occasion to work as an external consultant to a large multi national,  a demanding, frustrating and very rewarding position. Over time I began to feel like part of the team, a real partner, irreplaceable even.

During one business trip a visiting executive joined us for the meeting and also for dinner. Upon arriving at the beautiful history charged restaurant I was surprised to see one large table for everyone who was employed at the client, and a smaller table with a sign that said "Agency". Many of us stood around confused by this arrangement, since only a few of the providers present even worked for an agency, until each of us who were not employees were gently asked to sit at the smaller table.

I thought of many things, (be warned  not all of them were rational) including being relegated to the kiddie table at large family gatherings, discriminatory practices in the Southern US where Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, and yes, even the Jews in Nazi Germany who had to wear the star to show where they did or did not belong. Clearly I was having a strong reaction to this situation.

Mostly I thought how pissed off I was and how I would love to excuse myself and take a taxi back to the hotel. I mean who invites people to dinner and then seats them with each other at a separate (smaller) table?

The anger, hurt and weirdly shame, were honest emotions.  I wanted everyone to know how I felt.
I wanted someone to do something.

One member of the client team sized up the situation and promptly sat with us at the kiddie table. Another team member came over as if to join us but it was all a bit awkward and she ultimately sat with the visiting exec, texting me an apology during the meal.

I spent the next days thinking of all the things that could have been done differently, including not setting up the tables that way in the first place, having a well communicated client - only dinner without the external consultants,  pushing the tables together, mixing the groups, etc., etc. You will notice I only thought of options that someone else could take, pointing out how victimized I felt.

The anger only diminished when I admitted to myself that I too had choices, and in fact I had made one:
  1. I could have excused myself and enjoyed dinner on my own
  2. I could have expressed my dismay at the situation verbally, since I am well aware it was written all over my face
  3. I could have forgiven the client team, assuming there was no ill intent
  4. I could have carried the anger with me for a couple of days, refusing to accept the act of grace by the client who sat with us instead of at the big table, and while sitting there all angry I could also have brushed off the texted apology from the second client team member.
No need to tell you which choice I made. Let's just say Gandhi would not have been proud.

It is important to note that most people had a lovely evening either blissfully unaware of the hurt feelings at our table or unwilling to do anything about it. A few people were aware and attempted to make it right. At least one person (me) spent an evening and at least a day stewing in anger which did nothing to resolve the situation and made others feel defensive about their choices. 

The moment we feel powerless or victimized could become our shining moment. It could also be the moment we fall back on old patterns and stew in our stuff. Here's hoping the lesson I learned helps me respond with more grace should I have the occasion to relive such an experience. 


  1. Tis a trick to not get pullrd in to the emotional suckerhole. Pride and ego are not easily tamed. But once the ability is found to respond rather than react, it is very freeing to control your emotions and save and direct that energy towards ones' self rather than outside influences one cannot change. Been dealing with this myself this week, realized fridge in new apartment wasn't working Monday. Supposedly will have a new one this afternoon, but there isn't much afternoon left. Can get passed and stew and let it control me, or choose to keep cool. It sucks, but it isn't life or death. The snimal fight-or-flight response is always there. Finding the skill to recognize and tell ones' self "nope I'm not going down that road" is key to living a freer and lighter life.

    Or, I could be full of beans...

    1. First, it’s nice to see Neverlost-Everlost active again. It’s been a while.

      What an unfortunate, and unnecessarily awkward evening. What the hell were they thinking? Your comment, “Over time I began to feel like part of the team, a real partner, irreplaceable even” resonated with me. While never experiencing a public social stigma quite like this, I have experienced clients drawing that line in the sand.

      Most suppliers (I dislike the word vendor) make the claim they should be thought of as part of the team – think of me as just down the hall - but in fact this is usually wishful thinking.

      In my experience I have only truly felt being part of the team, a real partner, 1-2% of the time - whiteness the one person who had the guts to sit at your table. These are rare relationships and need to be valued and cultivated. The vast majority of business relationships, no matter what has been said, the unspoken word and behavior is vendor. This is not good or bad. Its just a reality. Knowing this going in makes it easier, especially in a ridiculous loose-loose situation like you experienced. Being relegated to the kiddy table tells all.

      I always felt fortunate to be a creative because I most likely would not be invited to this kind of function. That changed when I became an agency principal. I think this is the most difficult experience for an account person who is the face of the supplier agency or company. How do you reconcile speaking your mind and possibly offending the client who pays your bills, which in the end helps you keep your job.

      Sometimes you have to suck it up and take one for your own team.

    2. Yes indeed. And then write about it:)

    3. Andy you are on the money. But of course what is easy in theory is hard in practice:)

  2. HaHa...relegated to the kiddie table...I still smile when I think of your opinion of "men eating first" at our family gatherings!! I too have suffered some deep anger and hurt this past week. It was nice to read your blog...thereby reinforcing my actions...I too have "choices" and I made them, be it right or wrong!

    1. Oh Maria I wonder how you all put up with me. Amazing how much I thought I "knew". Sorry to hear about your hurt, and glad you have seen clearly how to respond.

  3. Absolutely love you Melanie, always have. You have a brilliant mind, and the courage to go for what you want out of life, and good for you!! Amazing how much we all THOUGHT we knew, isn't it? Life has a way of throwing us curve balls, and and what we once thought was important, really isn't so important now.

    1. Yup. Maybe we are getting smaarter:) And thanks Maria!

  4. Oh yeah, this is one of those times in life when you just think, Is this really happening? I'm sure there are lessons to be learned and all that, but then again, maybe it's just a reminder that some people are super lame and clueless. And if you were at the kid's table, I would have saddled right up next to you.

    1. You at the kids table would have made it a highly enjoyable experience


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