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Background: We submitted an engineering product to the client, who then has a team review our submission and provide comments which we must resolve. One particular reviewer, Andy (not his/her real name), has been very difficult, and even combative about resolving his comments. He's earned a reputation around the office.

Today I had to call Andy to ask a clarifying question. I anticipated he would be very difficult so I asked the Office Manager (OM) to tag along just in case, so I was on speaker phone. Andy was actually very calm and reasonable, and everything was resolved quickly. I put the receiver down, and proceeded to press the "call end" button, however, between putting the receiver down and terminating the call, my OM started to say "He's a pussycat, I don't know what your problem is" with a joking and jovial tone.

I am terrified the call ended before "cat" and that Andy heard it! Is there a recommended practice for handling this?

As soon as it happened I mentioned that the line was still live when the OM made his comments, but he didn't seem worried, so I'm not sure he fully grasped the issue.

Reasons I'm worried, even though I didn't say it:

  1. It was my call, I was the primary talker, so I could be attributed
  2. Andy is not the type of person who will just laugh this off, he's shown himself to be spiteful on several occasions
  3. Our project team is small enough that if this comes back around it will impact everyone
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    You may be living in a cheesy sitcom. Check the walls of your office- does one of them have a studio audience behind it? – Studoku Sep 29 '15 at 15:45
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    Reading between the lines, the real issue seems to be that you are terrified of Andy, but your boss can't understand why you needed him to ride shotgun. Even if he heard it, there's nothing much that Andy can do to you for something that your boss said. If Andy ends up in a minority of one blocking your client from closing the deal for some irrational reason, that's a management problem for the client to fix, not for you. – alephzero Sep 29 '15 at 16:59
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    The scenario you described can also have happened so that the "He's a pussycat..." part was not even a reference to Andy. Your OM could have been speaking to a 3rd person about some completely different individual, that Andy does not even know about. For Andy to automatically assume that it was about him would be a bit paranoid. Besides that you do not even know for sure if Andy heard any of it; as stated by others, you should not worry about it until it becomes an issue. – coderworks Sep 29 '15 at 17:52
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    If you want you can give Andy a follow-up call in a "just checking if he needs any additional (assistance/information/etc)" manner. If it's relevant, you may ask him if he felt the last phone calls solved his issues. Besides being proactive, this will help him feel special and his way of talking to you will tell you what he thinks about you. – coderworks Sep 29 '15 at 17:53
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    @HugoRocha If you take "cat" off the end of the word, it certainly becomes offensive in that context. – JPhi1618 Sep 29 '15 at 18:27
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I am terrified the call ended before "cat" and that Andy heard it! Is there a recommended practice for handling this?

I recommend not worrying about this until you know it's actually a problem.

Most likely Andy didn't hear exactly what you worry that he/she heard. Most likely the call didn't end on exactly that syllable.

Even if he/she did, it may not have been interpreted the way you fear.

Worst case, if Andy did hear and interpret the phrase the way that concerns you, you can enlist the Office Manger's help (or even Andy's manager's help) in conveying the entirety of the sentence, and in apologizing if necessary.

Don't be terrified. Accidents happen. Most likely, you are over-thinking this issue.

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    Teleconference etiquette 101 - A schoolboy error. Unprofessional behaviour from a manager who should have known better, but I agree with Joe and it probably didn't get through. If it did then the OP should take the responsibility of smoothing over the client's ruffled feathers. – Marv Mills Sep 29 '15 at 15:15
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    Consider also that Andy cherishes and cultivates his difficult reputation and got great satisfaction in hearing the "insult." – Mohair Sep 29 '15 at 15:19
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    This is a great answer. Spot on. In addition I wouldn't bring your OM to conference calls that aren't of concern to him anymore. It's pretty obvious to not say anything regarding the phone call until you know for certain that a call has ended. It may have been a one time thing, but people who overlook these things and shrug them off tend to do it often. – zfrisch Sep 29 '15 at 16:45
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    I don't know about others, but after "goodbye" or "thanks", or "stop talking to me", or whatever, I don't normally hold the phone to my ear until I hear the click. +1 for not worrying, because he probably didn't hear anything. – DoubleDouble Sep 29 '15 at 20:17
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    Also note that, from your description of Andy, there's a good chance that if you choose to apologize, you're actually letting him know that there's something he can make trouble about. You may very well be creating the problem you're worried about. – Peter Sep 30 '15 at 4:53
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First, you need to take steps to ensure the Office Manager knows that it is a poor practice to make remarks such as this if the phone is still live. Even the entire phrase was way out of bounds for Andy to hear. Not only that the Office manager owes you an apology for possibly making your relationship with a difficult person even more strained.

Next, you will likely hear from Andy officially if he was insulted or your next interaction will appear strained. In the first case, then you need to make sure the Office Manager is the one to explain what was said and apologize.

If things appear strained the next time you have a contact, you can ask directly if he has a problem with you that he would like to discuss. If he mentions this, point out that you did not say it and that the person who did was immediately talked to about the inappropriateness of what he or she said. Then apologize for your organization and ask if he would like an apology from the person who made the statement.

What you can't do is directly bring up the subject unless he brings it up first because he may not have heard any of the statement and you don't want to turn him form not insulted to insulted.

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    There is nothing the OP can do about the Office Manager's behavior or owing him an apology. – Amy Blankenship Sep 29 '15 at 17:19
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    Like any sane rational person, the OM presumably expected that the call was over from the moment the receiver was replaced upon its cradle. I am trying to work out how that could not be the case, actually. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 29 '15 at 19:40
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Many speaker phones don't even have a cradle or a separate handheld receiver in it. Even the ones that do, the handheld portion stays in the cradle during the speaker call. You usually go by a light with a speaker phone, one that would have been on until the OP finished pressing the button. – jpmc26 Sep 30 '15 at 4:25
  • @jpmc26: Exactly - so, if the receiver is off its cradle, one usually expects that those semantics are not in play. I can imagine it confusing the OM. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 30 '15 at 9:07
  • But even if you are on a conf call, lifting and replacing the handset terminates the call. I'd be surprised to find a unit that does not do this and requires a button press to terminate. Lifting and replacing the handset is our usual way of terminating a conference call. – gbjbaanb Sep 30 '15 at 12:03
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2.Andy is not the type of person who will just laugh this off, he's shown himself to be spiteful on several occasions

Andy's picture that you have painted clearly makes me believe that if Andy had heard that conversation, you would not be sitting here guessing whether he did. You would have received a call back right there. So, don't worry :)

And that is the recommended practice at least in our culture, cross the bridge when it arrives.

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The question you're asking is how do you remove yourself from what the OM said? With that said, it's impossible to know if Andy heard it. By your own description, Andy is very vocal and loud about issues and with that said, surely by now you or your OM would have heard it.

My advice is to relax. If your quote is exactly what your OM said, I don't think you have much to worry about as it doesn't sound bad at all.

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