Professional Maturity vs. Social Sophistication

He said that he was impatient, hard driving, focused, bottom-line. That he had trouble with people who wanted to think aloud, taking everyone’s time, noodling about what ought to have been immediately clear to everyone present. That his idea was good, it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. So, he did what any clear thinking person would have done, he blew up. Well, not totally. But he did say in very emphatic terms that he wouldn’t sit through these interminable meetings and have his time wasted by individuals who didn’t know enough to speak intelligently about the subject at hand. With that, he left the room.

He thought the subject was closed. He made his point. What was left to say? Plenty, apparently. He was informed that he was to apologize, immediately, to the management team, or be denied the promotion and salary increase that he had so long worked to attain.

He was willing to meet, he said, to explain his position. “Not good enough,” he was told.

“Why should I apologize?” he screamed into the ear that I was holding at a respectful distance from the telephone receiver. “Why am I the bad guy and these idiots get away with making it so? Why should my career be threatened because they don’t know the truth when it smacks them in the head and kicks them in the behind?”

“Do you want me to respond or do you want to keep venting?” I asked.

“I want to know how to answer them without feeling like I’m giving in,” he said. “I want to explain myself. I realize I was too emotional. But I won’t apologize for anything else.”

“What’s your ‘end’ in mind”” I asked. “What do you want to have happen as a result of that conversation?”

Silence. I didn’t hear him breathe.

“Good question,” he said. “And I don’t have an answer.”

I knew then he was ready to listen.

“Being ‘right’ isn’t reason enough to demand that others agree with you. Being ‘right’ isn’t sufficient cause for others to abandon their perspective.”

“OK. Maybe you’re right. What am I supposed to do? I’ve got integrity and I won’t compromise it to pander to people I don’t respect.”

“If you don’t respect the people on your team, why are you working for that company?”

“I misspoke. I do respect them. They’re smart, they’re smooth, and they’re sophisticated. To tell the truth, and I hadn’t thought about this until just now, I don’t think they respect me. That’s why I get angry.”

“Why wouldn’t they respect you?”

“Well, they went to ivy-league schools and have advanced degrees. They know how to dress, and what to say. They pick the right restaurants and choose the right wines. They’ve got class. I don’t. I didn’t get that in my house. Believe me, I wouldn’t trade my parents or my life, because that’s how I’ve gotten as far as I have, but I sure could use a little more polish.”

“What would polish do for you?”

“I’d be more patient, more understanding, I’d listen better because I wouldn’t feel like I always have to prove myself.”

“What do you have to prove?”

“That I have a right to be in the room. I have a right to a seat at the table. And I’ll fight for that right because I’ve earned it and I’m not going back to how I lived or where I lived, ever again.”

“It sounds like fighting for that right will guarantee you a ticket to where you don’t want to go.”

“Looks like it.”

“You’re smart, you’re quick, you connect the dots while others are still arranging them on the paper. You’re creative and passionate. You have everything that you need to succeed but…”


“You have lessons to learn: There are more ways than your way to solve problems, craft visions, and initiate processes. You can be intelligent and have viewpoints that add value and not be demeaning to others. It’s about professional maturity, not social sophistication.”

“It’s about winning as a team and beating the competition instead of beating up the team and losing my chance to play.”

“You’ve got it.”

* * * *

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Joyce Richman ( has been specializing in executiveand career coaching since 1982. She works in a variety of environments including: higher education, manufacturing, sales, marketing, media, technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, banking and finance, service, IT, and non-profit sectors. A member of the adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, Joyce is certified to administer a number of feedback and psychological instruments. Joyce is a weekly guest on WFMY-TV and the career columnist for The Greensboro News & Record. She is the author of Roads, Routes and Ruts: A Guidebook to Career Success and co-author of Getting Your Kid Out of the House and Into a Job. A popular speaker, Richman conducts seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Her coaching profile can be found at

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