My week started off with a rock star moment, only my rock star happens to be Karen Katz, the CEO of Neiman Marcus.
Just a few weeks before, she delivered the first remarks at a summit I attended. Poised, smart, engaging, and genuine, she was the model of what I strive to be in my career. Later that evening, I had the opportunity to speak to her, and she asked me my opinions about the company opening a new store in Manhattan, my personal shopping experiences at Bergdorf Goodman, and other thoughts about the shopping center industry.
I sent her a hand-written note to express the joy I felt after my interaction with her. When I received an email from the great Karen Katz thanking me for my note, I was elated; her words set the tone for a great week ahead.
I have had the fortune to work on a transformational project in Downtown Manhattan. The assignment requires our small team to curate an intimate luxury shopping destination geared toward well-heeled office workers, trendy New Yorkers, and millions of tourists.
For more than a decade, I have been selling retail space in projects across the United States, and my excitement for what I do has never waned. When the category leader for a hair blow-drying shop asked its real estate broker to visit the project for an informational tour – a broker whom I have known for years and supported his charitable causes – I was amped up for a fun meeting.
In one conversation, the sentiment turned to dread.
On the day of the tour, the broker and I spoke prior to our meeting. I casually said, “Is 2:45 okay with you?” He then very pointedly told me that I sounded uneducated, and I did not know how to ask a proper question. The broker then reminded me that he was the client. If the time works for you, he said, at least admit that you are being selfish with your request in suggesting that specific time. I then tried to give him precise directions to a project that can be hard to find due to it being surrounded by construction. He told me he was an educated man who did not need my help finding the site. The broker’s subtle message was received: choose your words carefully.
However, I was not fully prepared for the broker’s edge when we started the meeting, This broker was Mr. Know It All; each time I spoke, he interrupted me, talking on top of my sentences, rarely letting me finish a thought or sequence. If I started to show a short video, he would make me stop, telling me he knew the project, despite not having visited since the $250 million transformation had taken flight. If I discussed a statistic, he would cut me off, contesting my information and stressing his knowledge. And when he asked a question, and I would attempt to answer it, he would tell me that I was wrong…or being evasive, or that I was not listening, or that I was talking too much.
Each time, I would pause, and hope for a bright spot in the conversation, to no avail.
As we were wrapping up the presentation, I reminded him about the timing of the project and said, “For full disclosure, we are speaking to others in this category about the project. But we love your brand and want to make a deal with you.”
He then unleashed a fury that I had never quite seen before. “How dare you discuss cheap imitators with me! I will not be intimidated by your threat to talk to so-called competitors, and I am completely offended.”
I immediately offered an apology, feeling the heat rising to my face. The broker told me my apology was garbage. This almost 70-year-old man then said, “I do not accept your apology.”
At that point I stood up and felt taller than my 5’1”. I told him that I would not continue the conversation. I then walked out the door.
My bravado was fleeting, as I started to question my actions. Should I have walked out of the meeting earlier? Should I have stayed until the meeting finished? Should I have told this broker how rude his behavior was? Should I have called the brand that he was representing?
And the biggest question of all: how should I have handled a bully in an important meeting?
As the week came to a close, I got my answer from an unusual source: Joyce Chang, the editor of Self and a strong woman whom I put into the rock star category , who was a keynote speaker at a women’s business event I attended. She recalled how, as a young girl, kids were teasing her for being Chinese. Rather than tell the principal, her father taught her how to throw a punch. So the next time the boys bullied her, she told them, “If you say that again, I am going to punch you in the face.” She stood her ground, and as she told that story, I realized I had stood mine too. While I did not punch the broker in the face, when I walked out the door, I had stayed true to who I am and had my own rock star moment.