Candid Camera

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


A business owner from California called me the other day to relay a recent performance management encounter he had with two problematic employees, and their sister.   Apparently, the two brothers, had been underperforming, missed multiple days of work, and had not been acting as good team members for quite some time.   Finally, the owner reached his more than the generous limit of patience and decided it was time to terminate both brothers. 

In a non-distinct fashion, I am glad to report the termination meeting went well, supplemented with appropriate documentation, a trustworthy witness, and a professional protocol to ensure the stated script was concise, accurate, and legal.  Administrative paperwork was shared, final paychecks were distributed, and the employees left the yard without incident.  Great job!  Now let’s get ready for tomorrow.

When tomorrow came, surprisingly, the brothers’ sister showed up at the yard.  I guess their mom must have been busy at that time.  The sister, rife with pretense, attitude, and a full measure of immaturity, confronted the business owner making the standard allegations of discrimination, unfairness, and victimization, claiming the owner unjustifiably terminated her brothers.  Needless to say, her tone was aggressive, her volume was excessive, and her facts were fiction.  Oh, by the way, she captured the entire event on her cell phone camera.  Paging Mister Spielberg!  

To his credit, the owner tried to remain calm, restated the same rationale for the terminations that he conveyed to the brothers the previous day, and demonstrated professional aplomb the sister could only read about in a mystery novel.  Assuming, of course…

As we know, these types of meetings become repetitive very quickly, underscored by increased emotion, pitch, and accusation.  After constant badgering and having the cell phone camera relentlessly forced into his face as a sign of intimidation, the owner eventually began to raise his voice and told her to leave the premises.  Does anyone think she acted like an adult and complied with his reasonable request?

You win the luggage!

She continued, elevating her histrionics while simultaneously but not surprisingly, diminishing her dignity, all the while providing a narrative voice-over for her ongoing camera footage, trying to get the owner to say something incriminating.  Eventually, he left the yard, somewhat shaken, and went into his office.  She continued her monologue for her minuscule social media audience for several minutes and then finally left.  He called me, asking for feedback.

With the best of intentions in mind, he did very well.  That said, I suggested that if this type of event would ever reoccur, he should calmly direct the other party to turn off the cell phone camera immediately.  NEVER do or say anything that can be videotaped, recorded, or captured in any form that can be manipulated technologically.  NEVER! 

This simple directive evinces poise, confidence, and a resolute nature to never concede a meeting agenda to an inferior. If the person refuses to turn off the camera, tape recorder, etc., simply leave the setting.  You have complete control over the meeting; not the other party.  Do not forfeit that advantage.  If the other person refuses to heed your reasonable request, you should not respond submissively by cowering to his/her demands.  Always maintain control of every meeting, especially when tantrum replaces decorum.  

Her intent was not clarification; it was a provocation.  Her staged passion was nothing more than a sophomoric pretext to lure, trick, or provoke the owner to fall prey to her game of “GOTCHA” by trying to get him to say something (e.g., emotional, controversial, regrettable) that could be used against him.  By understanding that motive, maintaining control of the meeting, and leaving the site in response to her interpersonal contempt, the owner would have shown her that he was the real film director, not the self-absorbed wannabe Spielberg clone who just saw a YouTube video on how to operate a cell phone camera.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.