When you feel you are or may be experiencing career aggression, this is not the time to focus on strengthening relationships—remember, you may not know who is trying to damage your career, and if you do know who it is, you may not have a relationship with the person to begin with, as previously described. Your goal, now, needs to be to stop the damaging behavior and to protect your reputation and your career. To achieve these goals, you must be very cautious and thorough in the steps you take as soon as you suspect that someone is trying to damage your career. Keep the circle of people whom you talk to about what is happening very small so that the aggressor does not realize you are preparing to take action. You need to be the one who comes forward first. Here are five suggested steps to take:
Step 1: Write down the story of what is happening to you. Even if you are not completely sure yet what is happening or who is involved, document the following in your own words:
- Whom you talked to
- What you noticed or heard
- When you had each observation or conversation or learned a piece of information
The rule of thumb is to create a detailed record of who, what, and when as soon as you begin to feel that something might be going on that is directed at damaging you. Keep these notes with you and do not leave them lying on your desk or easily accessible in your desk because someone who might spread the information around or who might personally be involved in trying to damage you could see them. You will eventually bring this record with you to HR to provide facts for your case.
Step 2: Do your homework. Research your organization’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement, employee code of conduct, and harassment policy to understand your rights. Download them from the organization’s website, or obtain them from the Human Resources Department. Underline the sections that seem to cover your situation and add them to the folder of materials that you are keeping with you. Every organization has policies and statements that reflect its legal obligation to provide a work environment for all employees that is free from harassment and protects employees from working in a hostile work environment. If someone is trying to damage your career, that person is creating a hostile work environment for you. Your request for help to stop the unwelcome behavior directed at damaging your reputation and career will be taken more seriously when you can show you have done your homework and understand your rights as an employee.
Step 3: Seek out a trusted advisor. It is important that you talk with someone whom you trust to have an unbiased view. This person can help you think through how you will proceed and help you put together your talking points if you are going to confront the aggressor or file an official complaint. You may know a person in HR whom you feel can be your trusted advisor and keep your conversations confidential until you decide what action you are going to take. If not, a trusted advisor can also be any of the following: (1) someone at work who can advise you (2) a family member who is not biased or emotionally involved, or (3) a professional, such as a clergy member or a therapist with whomyou have a good relationship.
Step 4: Confront the career aggressor. If at all possible, confront your aggressor in front of a witness before you officially file a complaint. Plan your talking points with your trusted advisor, and confront your aggressor in a private setting with a witness at your side. The aggressor may admit that she has been acting to damage you, or she may not. In either case, record what happens in the conversation in your detailed notes, as well as any subsequent actions the person might take to try to threaten you to keep you from filing a complaint.
Step 5: Have a confidential conversation with a management- or director-level HR person. Discuss filing a complaint and show the person your detailed record. Discuss steps to escalate your complaint to the next level and ask for her or his advice. It is your decision whether or not to take the next steps. If you decide to go forward with filing a formal complaint, the organization must conduct an investigation. Whether or not the organization is able to prove that the accused person did try to damage your career, this fluid process is very likely to stop the career aggression and restore your reputation.
This process is summarized in table 9.
Table 9. How to stop career aggression
: Create a detailed record: who, what, and when.
: Research the organization’s EEO statement, employee code of conduct, and harassment policy.
: Seek out a trusted advisor.
: Confront the career aggressor.
: Speak with a director-level HR professional about filing a complaint.
An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women
, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/