Self-Respect and Self-Empowerment: When It's Your Right to Leave the Room

Early in my career I had a boss - a woman - who was, to be honest, awful.

This was in the earliest days of women being promoted mostly because the laws had changed and the men in charge were afraid that there would be EEO and Affirmative Action lawsuits about their discrimination against women.

The problem was, the men were so scared of the lawsuits that they weren’t being very discriminating about the women they were promoting.

That’s how I got stuck with Candy. (Yes, her name really was Candy.)

From the first, we didn’t hit it off. It wasn’t just that she was a bad manager - which she really was - it was that she clearly didn’t like the idea of another woman holding a position of power…even if that position was subordinate to hers.

That was me.

She was also one of those women who wanted to ‘play up’ her femininity while showing how acceptably ‘male’ she was - which led her to have bleached blonde hair, kewpie doll makeup and, at the same time, wear tailored suits that had peplums - always in pastel colors - with just-short-enough skirts and high heels.

She didn’t miss a trick.

Anyway, wearing black as I did - and still do - I rather looked like the evil stepsister…which was fine with me. To this day I’ve never understood that particular girl game - nor why men still fall for it.

But I digress.

There came a day when Candy got really, really angry at me. So angry, in fact, that she started to yell at me. Loudly. In a voice that was moving quickly from loud to shrill to shriek.

I don’t remember what the topic was but, undoubtedly, it was because she believed that I had overstepped her bounds. Again. Somehow.

I don’t really care. Nor did I care then.

What I did care about was that I was not going to accept being treated that way. By anyone.

So, as her volume began to increase, I turned my back and started walking out of the room.

That stopped her mid-shrill. And when it did, the next question was at shriek level. That question was:

What do you think you’re doing?!?”

I turned back to her and in a very calm and quiet voice, I answered:

“I’m leaving. When you’re able to speak to me in a civilized way, in a civilized voice, with the respect I deserve, I’ll be happy to have this conversation with you. Until that time, we will not speak of this and I will not stay in this room.”

And I left.

She never yelled at me again. Yes, eventually, we did discuss the topic and, yes, we got it as settled as it was going to be.

But, most important of all, I forced her to show me the respect I deserve - because I showed me the respect I deserve.

You deserve the same respect.

Sadly, over the years I’ve seen that the yelling, belittling and/or insulting behaviors are more often pointed at women - not always in subordinate positions, interestingly enough - but almost always delivered by men. Because they think they can - and until someone stops them, that’s what they do.

Which is why it’s your turn to make it stop if it ever happens to you.

And that’s why, from that day forward - so many years ago - until this, I have always given the same advice:

You never have to accept being yelled at, insulted or belittled in any way by any person in your organization.

Instead, respect and empower yourself - and show them that you’re not going to let them get away with treating you in anything other than a respectful manner.

Turn your back and start to leave. Even if the abuser doesn’t ask what you’re doing, they’ll probably shut up just out of shock.

As you walk, find your moment. Explain that you’re happy to talk with them about the topic…when they treat you with the respect you deserve.

And then, no matter what, leave. Seriously. Leave.

Because if they’re fast on their feet, they’ll be scared that your next stop will be their manager, HR - or an employment attorney - which will lead them to give you a quick (insincere) apology and ask you to stay. They’ll even promise that they’ll speak respectfully.

At that point, you thank them and tell them that you will be happy to schedule a time in the next day or two to finish the conversation.

Then walk out, quietly closing the door behind you.

The only person who will ever be able to fully fight your side is you - and that starts with you understanding (even if you’re not ready to fully accept) that you deserve to be fought for. And as you see - and show - that you deserve to be fought for, others will see the rightness in what you’re fighting for.

Because, chances are, when it’s not you on the receiving end, it’s someone else who hasn’t yet learned that they, too, deserve to be respected.

Just like you.

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