When Eric Urtiaga started his new job as a Product Manager for a nutritional products company in San Diego, he was looking forward to having an impact on a market that he cared a lot about. Eric was passionate about maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit, at work and in the rest of his life. He had been told by co-workers at his previous employer that his attitude and energy were was one of the reasons they looked forward to coming to work each day.
So it came as a shock to Eric when he heard that someone at the new company was talking about him behind his back, and not in a good way.
"He doesn't have the educational or research credentials we need to advance our products," sniffed Marlene, the corporate communications manager. She seemed to take every opportunity to second guess his ideas for new product introductions and current product promotions. And when he went over budget on a trade show booth, she mentioned "our budget problem" at several meetings, just to be sure Eric's boss was aware if it.
At first Eric tried to take the high road. He just kept his head down and focused on doing a good job. But Marlene was a long time employee with many friends and acquaintances in virtually every department. Over time her behind-the-scenes whispering campaign began to take its toll. Eric could tell that he was losing the confidence of some people, so he tried to address the issues directly with Marlene.
"I think somehow we got off on the wrong foot, and I'd like to start over," he said to her in a private conversation.
Marlene looked stunned. "I have no idea what you are talking about." Eric began to give her a few examples but she cut him off. "I thought you wanted open communication? I've been clear with you about my concerns, and when it seems appropriate I've shared those concerns with others. Our culture here is an open give-and-take environment where people are free to express their opinions."
Eric was getting nowhere with her, so he ended the meeting and thought perhaps she might at least think twice before talking about him behind his back again. Instead, Marlene went immediately to the HR Manager and filed a complaint. She totally characterized the nature of the conversation and told HR that she "felt threatened" by Eric's anger at her criticisms.
When Eric was called to the HR Director's office and given an opportunity to respond, he was shocked and (unfortunately) angry. She had so clearly lied, and the surprise of it all caused him to lash out. "I'm telling you! She is a conniving, lying bitch! That is NOT what happened! I don't know what it is, b