What to do when somebody accuses you….

…of being an asshole.

I mean – just imagine it. One day you find out that your females colleagues think you are a complete asshole when you deal with women. How do you feel? Does it shock you to find out that you are not the gentleman you thought you are, but instead some wannabe alpha male who makes girls cry?


Well, this was exaggerated, of course. But there are people who will react like this. And it’s not just a few. Everybody wants to be seen as the good guy – somebody who takes care of people. Now you find out you are not really like that. It’s an identity crisis.

Now think about it. How will you react when somebody else accuses you of being a bully. You will probably react defensive, won’t you? Don’t worry. That is just natural. As I said before, we all want to keep our images of ourselves as a hero. What you have to learn is not to feel threatened in such moments and not to start ignoring that person. It doesn’t help. Martin Davidson instead suggests five strategies you can use in a situation like that

  1. Pause
  2. Connect to larger goals
  3. Question your own role in the interaction
  4. Seek out balanced support
  5. Shift your mind set towards opportunities

Pause to avoid acting in a way you will regret. If you are too emotional, you might blow up or say something you don’t mean.  Instead, excuse yourself for a while and come back to the lady later. While you do that, use the time well to reflect on your own feelings about it. Could it be true what she said? Try to think of moments where you might have hurt her feelings. But don’t convince yourself that you are an asshole – that won’t do you any good.

Connect to larger goals instead of getting angry. Yes, she hurt your feelings. But she probably had a reason why she did so. Instead of focusing on your grudge, focus on larger goals instead. Think how important it is to keep a good relationship with her and other women to reach your individual goals as an employee and the organizational goals. Next, find solutions how you will be able to improve your work relationship with them. What can you do better in the future and what do you expectations do you have of them?

Question yourself to find out to which degree it is true what she said. Wow, this is a tough job, huh? Thinking about your own weaknesses is never nice. But you have to get through with it or you will never become the person you want to be (god, this sounds like a cheesy self-help book). Remember your past. Question your own beliefs. Is it possible that you have a stereotype against women? Deep inside yourself, in your unconsciousness, is it possible that you see women in a way that creates conflict?

Let’s say she is an accounting professional, but you think women “should” work in people-related jobs like human resources – that is why you don’t treat her as an equal. What do you think? Is it possible that you have such a stereotype? Be honest with yourself. Trust me, it is not even something shocking. We all have some sort of stereotypes.

Seek out balanced support to come closer to the truth. Ask several other women whether they also think that you are an asshole (don’t use these words, of course). Ask other guys who regularly observe you when you talk with the women in your department. What do they think about it? Often they will be as clueless as you (and me) about how to deal with women, but at least you can give it a try. Keep it objective. Tell them to describe specific things you do that women might perceive as offensive. That way you will react less emotional. And, even better, if you do the same thing again, you will notice for sure.

Shift your mindset toward opportunity for change. When somebody tells you that you are an asshole, it is a great thing. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Once you know that something is wrong, at least you can do something about it. Maybe it’s true that you are treating women in an unfair way – now you know that you need to change. Or maybe all of this is just her perception – other women see your behaviour as completely appropriate. There could be some other issue going on between you guys. Is it possible that she always wanted a promotion, but you assumed she was more comfortable in her current position? Or is it something completely different? Use this opportunity to find out what the real issue is – then solve it!

Of course treating woman in an unfair way was only an example. These techniques work no matter what type of identity crisis you face.

Okay, that’s it for today. Do you remember a time when you faced such an identity crisis? How did you cope with it? Did you manage to solve your problem? If not, what were the issues? What techniques did you use to solve the problem?

Finally I would like to thank Martin Davidson for his great book “The End of Diversity As We Know It“. If you want to know more about how to handle an identity crisis (and much more) do read his book!




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