Watching Out for Hidden Vipers

viperShe was a viper with a charming persona and a great big smile. And somehow I had no idea that she saw a target on my back.

I had been let go from a job I’d held for eleven years, due to “financial reasons.” (I actually believe that the decision was based on my political leanings, though that’s another blog post.) Within a few weeks, I’d been hired by the competitor and was feeling rather fortunate that I would be able to continue to support my family.

A few weeks after starting the new job, I was surprised to have my coworker, who also held a VP title, strike out at me about a client inquiry. We were a primary vendor for a few large corporations, which meant that our video materials were sometimes requested by the companies’ ad agencies to support their projects. I had gotten a call from a video producer that needed some video clips. “I called and left a message for (snake lady) yesterday, though no one has called me back.”

I went into (snake lady)’s office to see if she could help assist me with getting the needed materials together. “She said she’d left you a message,” I told her. “Did you get it?” As a newbie to the company, I was worried that perhaps messages were getting lost.

“I am very busy and I return client calls within 24 hours,” she snapped. (24 hours? In the video business, things move a whole lot quicker than that. A 2 hour turnaround on phone calls is considered TOOOO long.)

“Got it,” I told her. “If you need help, please feel free to pass those calls along to me. I’m always happy to take those kinds of things off your hands.”

She smiled her great big smile and brought out her insta-charm, which was magnetic and particularly appealing to the guys. “Thank you,” she beamed, before she filled me in on what I needed to do to meet the request.

Over time, there were several occasions like this one. I’d do something, she’d get angry and snipe at me. I’d fumble through it and we’d get things managed. I talked to the president and the owner of the company and asked if we could talk it over in a meeting. “Oh, no,” they’d respond. “Leave it alone. You’ll start World War III.”

Seriously? I was flummoxed. Why would this VP level staff member be allowed to act in any way she wanted, with impunity. Was it because she was prone to walk out of meetings in anger if things didn’t go her way? Or her magnetic charm, which she could turn on and off in seconds?

I began to understand that she wasn’t happy to have another strong woman on what she perceived as her turf. She’d been with the company for several years and I discovered that any other woman who held a position similar to mine had either quit or been fired within a year or so.

It wasn’t until several months later, as the relationship between us continued to deteriorate, that I found out she made fun of me to other people and complained to the owner about perceived weaknesses she thought I possessed. (And, yes, her complaints worked. The owner’s confidence in my abilities waned.) Within nine months of my hiring, I resigned, leaving that day.

“I thought you were a fighter,” the president of the company said, when I told him of my decision. “No, you misread me. I don’t like to fight. I like to collaborate,” I replied. I drove home crying tears of joy.

What was the key to snake lady’s success at this company? She was able to turn from full-on bitch mode to charming, magnetic warmth in seconds flat. It was truly amazing to watch. (Plus, she had an uncomfortably close relationship with the company owner, but again, that’s another blog post.)

What about you? Have you ever encountered a hidden viper? What happened?

photo credit: static416 via photopin cc