We had a workshop at the SML office during the week with our divisional management team – there were eight of us, plus the facilitator, who we’d not worked with previously and was not industry specific.
Facilitator is a camp, pale, weedy little man in his late 50s with a kind of ginger-ish Hitler moustache. Facilitator is the MD of his company.
I adore workshops, I love collaborating, exchanging ideas and stretching my thinking. This one was right in my wheelhouse, mostly talking team building and our direction for the next couple of years, which my new gig will be pretty instrumental in driving.
Everything was running fabulously, there was lots of our usual banter and gentle piss-taking, very good energy. I’ve known this group for many, many years, we get on well and we are all really comfortable with each other.
It sounds really obnoxious, but I’m a pretty good workshop participant, I’m usually fizzing with energy, have lots to contribute, but always making sure I’m bringing the much more reticent people into the conversation – “Ringo was saying something really interesting about this the other day, what was it you were saying again Ringo?”, “I know FCFC had some killer insights on that …”, “Vincenzo can explain this much better than I can”. You know the sort of thing.
Everything was good, it was fun, vibe was great.
And then …
We’re capturing issues/themes/whatever on the board and I was trying to explain to Facilitator that the theme I’d mentioned was not the same as another. Theme B might look like Theme A, but really isn’t.
Facilitator still wouldn’t add Theme B to the list.
Me (calmly): “I’m not sure you’re understanding me – here’s why Theme B is a different thing”.
Nods from all, Theme B is a very big thing for us.
Facilitator: “it’s the same as Theme A, we need to move on”
Me (slightly stubborn, but still calm): “I know you want me to shut-up, but … “.
Facilitator (completely snaps): “How dare you say I want you to shut up! How dare you insult my professionalism like that!”
Us: silent, mouths agape
Facilitator: “This is exactly the culture of this team playing out right now, carolbaby dominates everything and no-one else gets a chance to contribute! It’s toxic and dysfunctional!”
Us: silent, mouths agape
Us (in kitchen): “What the fuck was that?”
Me: starts to cry
Me: mutinously quiet (occasional quiet sob and sniffle)
Them: more silence
Them: some quiet, tentative contributions
Them: more silence
Facilitator: “Carolbaby, do you have anything to contribute here?”
Me (quietly): “No, I have nothing”
Facilitator: “Really?! YOU have nothing?!”
Me: “That’s correct, I don’t have a contribution to make at the moment”
Facilitator: “DO WE NEED TO GO OUT AND RESOLVE THIS?”
Me: “Okay, that sounds like a good idea”
Outside meeting room
Facilitator: “You have nothing to contribute?”
Me: “That’s right”
Facilitator: “Don’t have anything? When this is your area?”
Me:”I don’t feel like I have anything to add to what has been said”
Facilitator (very much in my face): “You know what you are? You are a petulant little brat! AND THAT IS MY TRUTH!” (gets closer) “THAT IS MY TRUTH!”
Me: gasps, backs away, mouth agape, hands to chest
Facilitator: gasps, backs away, mouth agape, hands to chest
Me: backs further away, hands wrapped around self
Facilitator: backs further away, hands wrapped around self
It occurs to me that he is mimicking me.
He continues to copy everything I do and do it very closely.
It is – to not put too fine a point on it – fucking harrowing.
I’m really sobbing at this point.
Bobs is witnessing this – confused and sort of shocked.
Facilitator (shrieks): “I have never seen anyone so unprofessional as you in 30 years of consulting! You are dysfunctional and very obviously have some deep and toxic issues with Bobs!”
Me (through tears): “What?! Bobs and I are extremely close!”
Bobs agrees we are extremely close.
Facilitator: “You prevent the team from contributing (and lots more stuff about how I’m a absolutely terrible person – probably the worst person ever).”
Bobs: confused and sort of shocked
I retreat back to the meeting room where I’m being shepherded by Facilitator, to continue as if nothing had happened.
I’m sitting, sobbing with occasional deep breaths to steady myself – trying to answer direct questions from Facilitator, quite worried that if I don’t perform he’ll crack again.
Everyone looks horrified, no-one knows what to do.
It was a really bad, bad scene.
I do not attend the group lunch.
I really want to go home, but I don’t feel like I can.
I go to Muji and buy a new diffuser.
I thank TheUniverse I brought a handkerchief with me today.
FCFC tells me I should have just walked out.
The afternoon is long.
I participate in the sessions in a restrained way.
I occasionally cry quietly.
I tell Bobs that he has really let me down, that he has broken my trust, that he should have done something, anything, to stop what happened.
Bobs unfortunately has a lower EQ than my tea cup.
I explain that this was not a robust debate, or a difference of opinion but an unprovoked attack on a pretty defenseless person.
Bobs can be fucking clueless.
This does not help.
I come home.
Clearly Facilitator is a massively unstable nutjob.
I still have no idea where it came from, and why I was the target and it’s obviously extremely unlikely I’ll ever know.
I’ve been trying to move on from everything and let it go.
My subconscious really doesn’t seem to want to play along as I’ve been plagued by nightmares and random acts of crying / shaking.
It has of course made me brood on the possibility that Facilitator is right and I really am an absolutely terrible person and no-one else is being honest with me about that.
Word slowly spreads internally about what happened and people feel quite murderous. Their obvious outrage makes me feel much better.
I had it out with Bobs again today and I think he finally, finally gets that what happened is a very serious thing.
Thankfully I never have to see Facilitator again.
I’m very glad that week is behind me.