I (a PM, no reports) had a Director (manager of managers) get very upset with me today when I included his boss in an email summarizing action items for closure. This Director's boss is the site leader and I was asked by him to include him in the correspondence. We are a Fortune 50 (actually top 10 on that list), for some reference.

So the email went out. I was hesitant, and feared the reaction, but I followed the direction given. I know my job. I know the politics. But when the head person at your location wants to know what is needed to close a project, you provide the info. All actions were previously communicated and agreed upon by the Director the day before. He was aware of the actions.

This Director storms to my desk and explodes in my face. F this, F you, this that and the other. Screaming at me for all around to witness. Somehow I keep my wits, attempt to explain. Doesn't work. He keeps going. I tell him I can tell he's upset and suggest we go somewhere more private to discuss. Doesn't work. He keeps cursing at me. Last straw. I tell him if he doesn't want to speak in private, then I have to speak with my manager and HR, as he is screaming curses at me in the office. He tells me to go F'ing do it.

So that's what I do. HR interviews, witnesses, etc. this all happened this afternoon and is still very fresh.

My questions are. What the heck do I do now? Let's say he keeps his job (most likely, and honestly I would rather he keep his job...clearly he was having a bad day). Do I forgive him? How can I in the short term? What if I'm not ready? What do I say when/if he apologizes?

Aside from the impact on my ability to manage projects and deliverables from his department, that is. That is going to be hard enough in the future.

How do you handle such gross unprofessionalism from someone who should clearly know better?

donm's picture
Training Badge

Yes, your behavior was very unprofessional. You never go over someone's head without telling him first. It seems you still have not learned that lesson. You say he was aware of the actions. I find this impossible to believe. Were the director aware, then the explosion would not have happened. Your statement that included "..attempt to explain..." tells me that you knew this reaction was coming, and therefore you planned for this. Of course you were calm. You set up the situation exactly the way you wanted it. Were I your manager and were you in my office, I'd be using words such as "manipulator," "plotter," and "back stabber" to let you know just how I felt about your egregious behavior.

Before you try to justify your actions, just ask yourself this question: Did you know before sending the email that those between you and the requestor were not going to like it?

A meeting with your manager and the director with the prepared report in hand before sending it along with a statement such as "I thought you should review this before I send it to my boss' boss' boss" would have prevented this situation from happening. But that's not what you wanted. I can imagine that you are not happy with the project progress, and that you feel that other people are not completing their tasks, and that you're personally ahead of the game waiting on others. I can also imagine that the report was "brutally honest" in reporting your assessment of the project progress including everything I mentioned above.

Were I in your shoes, I would pull the HR complaint. I would then sincerely apologize to both my manager and the director for my mistake. I would then hope that that's the end of it. I would also make sure my CV is up-to-date and that I don't have too many personal items in the office. You might want to call a few folks to refresh your network, as well.

"You're not that smart. They're not that dumb." No one becomes a director in a fortune 100 company without having seen this type of behavior before, and he knows it's poison to the process. Your only chance now is to let them know you realize what you did wrong, and that you'll never do it again. And then, you do your best to make that previous statement the future reality, if you get the chance.

What other manager or director would want you on his next project after seeing what you did here? What are your career prospects if no one wants you on his project?

But yes, you are right. He should not have blown up in public. I hope he says, "I'm sorry."

Your behavior is a shining example of the phrase "career-limiting move."

engineer76's picture

I agree with donm.  You need to apologize and hope they move on.  I wouldn't move on very quickly if one of my skips did what you did - until I saw hard evidence over a period of some time that the behavior is executed differently.  During your apology, you can also ask the question - how should I handle this shoudl this situation come up again - during the answer you need to show active listening, head nodding, note taking, understanding, agreement, and absolute compliance.  Smile and accept no matter how hard.  

Regarding being chewed out in public - you need to move on.  You can't change your boss.  

techmgr's picture
Training Badge

Something isn't adding up for me - he didn't say that this was his boss. This was "a Director". It sounds like the project is important to the company. It's not moving along at an acceptable rate. There have been discussions about why not and what needs to be done. And a person high up in the company (sounds like 3 steps above him) wants to be kept in the loop moving forward. To me, that's a lot of pressure on a project manager - an individual contributor - who's responsible for project success but has no role power. The Director was in agreement with the content of the report. Is this Director not being truthful with his boss about the project status? What Director doesn't expect his boss to find out the project status eventually. Was this report simply factual or did it assign blame? How involved is the PMs actual boss, and why is she not included in this story? There's a lot missing here.

Entirely aside from that, If I had been a witness to this very angry and curse-laden "dressing down" I would view this as a hostile work environment. Whether it is addressed towards me or a co-worker. Maybe I'm too thin-skinned, but I don't want to work in a place like that. I don't care what he did wrong, that response was unprofessional.


adamec's picture

I see all of your points. And I would agree completely with donm and engineer if their assumptions were true. They are not though.

Director is from another department. And he was fully aware of the actions. I reviewed them line by line with him the day before. his explosion was a knee jerk reaction to the To: line of my email. Had he read the email, he would have seen its contents were fair and exactly what we discussed the day before.

the report literally had 6 action items with owners (again who had already concurred), 4 of which were to his department. I even have an email from the person in his department who will complete the actions. This is the document I used to review with him the day before

frankly, I have learned that lesson in the past. And it was a hard one to learn. That is why I didn't blindly copy my skip's boss. 

My attempt to explain was a reaction to what he was saying (excluding the curses), as I could tell immediately he didn't read or understand the email.

i appreciate all of your input. Fresh eyes is a great thing. I can see the way this may look if you aren't given every bit of information and actually your insight is leading me to believe this may be what other people are being told. I can't help if he gossips.

it's still an open item, HR has made no actions except interviews and asked for the communication "proof" I mentioned earlier.



adamec's picture

I forgot to include something.

both my boss and the three level skip have come to me, almost immediately after the incident, and are working with me to get the actions completed so we can complete the project.

i am not so dense to think there is nothing I could have done differently. But I think it is clear, and several others are in agreement, that his reaction, given the circumstances, was unwarranted.

tja is again for all of your comments. I appreciate it and any future input anyone has.

mike_bruns_99's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

The action items in the email are entirely irrelevant.  It doesn't matter if the project status is yellow, red, green, or crimson. It doesn't matter if the issues were or were not under his control.  You did fine to let him know his issues and actions ahead of time. You missed the 2nd part.. Unless I missed it in your text, you failed to let him know that you would make his failures public.

In order to eliminate the chance for a dime drop, the recipient must know BOTH

  1. that they have not met their responsibility,
  2. you intend to communicate that publicly.

In a slander/libel case, the truth is a defense.  Not here. It doesn't matter if your facts are 100% true or 100% false. The fact that you embarrassed him to others damaged/destroyed your relationship with him. That's the problem. The fact that you aired the issues in public, before letting him know they would be made public.

Please listen to this cast in detail:

If he knew that the issues/actions would be made public well ahead of time, I'll retract my comments. If he didn't know they would be made public until he saw the email copying others, that's on you.

adamec's picture

The more we discuss the more clear it becomes how unclear this situation is. It's hard enough to write out. There are a lot of details but I can see your point that they don't matter in the end.

I thought I had made myself clear the day before that I owed a report to the greater team. Obviously it is reasonable to say I did not communicate that as much as needed. 

my plan is to state that fact to him when we meet again. Explain that I thought I had communicated my requirement to report and apologize that clearly I had not done that. I know I told him the Boss wanted me to get this done and wanted to be kept In the loop. Maybe he didn't hear what I thought I was saying.


So now what?

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge



Wendii and another member asked me to review this thread in light of donm's comments.  I've prepared a note she's going to post (sorry I don't have time to re-type it right now).

Short answer, more to follow: adamec's error wasn't as bad as many of these comments make it out to be.  Sure, an errror, and one he seem to have acknowledged (to my satisfaction anyway).

We all make mistakes, but let's not kick a guy when he's down.

Adamec - again, more to follow.  But chin up, lesson learned.


donm's picture
Training Badge

I want to point out the key paragraph in my diatribe: "Before you try to justify your actions, just ask yourself this question: Did you know before sending the email that those between you and the requestor were not going to like it?"

You have been justifying your actions, but you did not answer the question. If the answer is "No," then I am wrong in my assessment, and I apologize. If the answer is "Yes," then you should re-read everything that has been posted and take it to heart.

@Techmgr: "I don't care what (Adamec) did wrong, that response was unprofessional." Agreed. I don't think anyone has excused the director's behavior. Were he posting here trying to justify his outburst, I think he would be disabused of that notion in short order.

I am looking forward to Mark's response. After being singled out in his preamble, I feel like a kid waiting to go into the principal's office wondering if I'm due a paddling. By the ominous tone of his wording, I'm pretty certain I'm not about to be awarded any citation. Maybe I did the equivalent of the director's outburst on a public forum...

wendii1's picture
Training Badge

This is Mark's full note that he mentioned earlier: 


First, we disagree with donm's response, both in substance and tone.  We'll address the manner of the post shortly.  

Copying the Site Manager without notifying the Director doesn't rise to the level of Career Limiting Move.  CLMs are far more serious than one email sent unwisely.  Further, CLMs don't usually happen out of the blue like this.  There's usually a pattern of behavior that ends in the CLM.  Little actions lead to bigger ones and bigger ones lead to CLMs - which is why we emphasise honesty, integrity and politeness.

On the other hand, blowing up at one person, in front of others, and not responding to conciliatory acts?  In corporate america, that's a CLM.  Either he has been expressing this temper in smaller ways previously, or he has something very stressful going on.  Even with great results or exceptional circumstances, he may well still be fired.  That is not adamec's fault.  The Director manages his own emotions and actions, not adamec.

In future, it would be smart for adamec to give a heads up to the Director that the Site Manager had requested such an email.  He would not be asking for permission, but making the Director aware that he has been asked to send the email and that he will be doing so shortly/this afternoon/in the morning.  That would give the Director a chance to work on a reasonable action.

That said, when your boss's boss asks you to do something, you’re pretty well obligated to do it.  If it's unethical, or illegal, that's something else (and rare) but a status update like this?  You've GOT to send it.  

To answer adamec's original question, just pretend it didn't happen.  If he apologizes, accept the apology.  It doesn't mean it's forgiven, if you need to feel that, it just means you accepted the apology.   You also say that there are places where you believe that you could have communicated more clearly.  Tell him that, and apologize for that part in the situation (don't say if!)
His unprofessionalism doesn't preclude yours.  Continue to work towards the results the company needs and build relationships.  It sounds like you have some feeling of empathy towards him (you say "clearly he was having a bad day).  Keep that in mind, and continue to do good work.  

As for donm:

We disagree with your characterization of the extent of adamec’s mistake.  We also disagree with the delivery of your post.  You’ve made some strong statements that generally cross the line of the culture we like to see in the forums.  Phrases like “still have not learned that lesson” and “impossible to believe” are attacks on the person’s knowledge and character, rather than guidance or commentary on his choices of action.  Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, however, as to the substance of the matter, your comments could have been delivered with compassion [Ex: "Regrettably, you’ve done something beyond the pale, and I think you should assume you’re in for a rough road with this director and potentially others.”] Rather than what we read as derision.

Let’s not kick people when they’re down, even if we believe we’re right.

Ambrose023's picture

Step 1
Note the unprofessional behavior you observe and locate the appropriate section regarding that behavior in the employee handbook, if your firm has one. Detail times and dates you observed the behavior.
Step 2
Meet with the employee in question. Let the employee know what you've observed and why the behavior is inappropriate. Point to the appropriate sections of the employee handbook relating to professional behavior on the job and allow the employee to read the rules pertaining to the situation.
Related Reading: How to Deal With Feuding Employees
Step 3
Be fair during the process and allow the employee to offer a defense. While there is no real defense for behavior the company considers unprofessional, not giving the employee a chance to defend himself would be unprofessional in itself.
Step 4
Discuss the possible avenues you can pursue regarding the behavior. These may range from probation to loss of the employee's job. Tell the employee the consequence you've chosen. Avoid dismissal if the unprofessional behavior isn't severe or hasn't been ongoing. A probationary period might be more acceptable.
Step 5
Meet with the employee at the end of the probationoary period to discuss any infractions or to let the employee know her behavior has improved.
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