A Humiliating Brief Encounter I’ll Never Forget


It’s moments like this that can make life in the business world perilous

Looking back, I recall a life filled with joyous reunions with family, friends and colleagues, but the specifics of such meetings remain a blur. However, I do recall every embarrassing detail of at least one my red-faced encounters.

I was fairly new to the company I worked for but by then fairly experienced in dealing with potentially humiliating confrontations. Though meeting authority figures no longer gave me the sweats or made my hands clammy, I was unsettled and nearly undone by one such confrontation.

The big boss from out-of-town headquarters was staging one of his infrequent visits. He would be meeting with top-level department heads, but everyone on our floor knew he was present. This was a tough, demanding executive who controlled the shape and policy of every project being planned. My interview with him, before being hired, had been an intense interrogation. He was not a man to mess with.

As I wasn’t scheduled to attend any of the management meetings, I didn’t anticipate greeting the great man that day. Which is why I popped into the men’s room so casually about an hour after draining my morning coffee.

I was just zipping up after letting it all hang out at the urinal when who should bang his way into the restroom but the big man himself.

“Well, well,” he exclaimed, extending his hand. I held back for an agonizing moment, totally mortified. I was sure the color had drained from my face.

There was no time to rush to the sink, the soap or the water faucet. I had no choice but to swallow my humiliation and grasp the boss’s hand, praying that mine wasn’t sprinkled with driblets. I practically hugged my desk, nearly paralyzed, for the rest of the day.

It’s an event like this, not the truly happy times, that tend to stick in the mind, and there’s really no way to prep for them. Even if you can slough them off with practiced insouciance, they inevitably leave an indelible mark.

In another context, years later, a chance meeting with a colleague in a company men’s room began in silence. Before the guy would utter a word, he checked out each of the stalls—and only then disclosed what kind of pressure he’d been under.

Obviously, he was a man of experience, a man after my own heart.

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons



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About Mervyn Kaufman

Mervyn Kaufman became an essayist and short-story writer after a long career as a writer and editor in the field of consumer magazine publishing. Merv is the author most recently of The Shamrock Way, the history of Arizona's biggest and most enduring food-service company, and coauthor of the Gary Stevens memoir, The Perfect Ride.

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