My colleagues asked me to “Take one for the team”

Harassment coming from a key client, combined with peer pressure coming from team members, can be stressful – how can employees handle such situations, while also closing successful deals?

What happened?

I was in my early 20’s working on an enterprise software company that sold to government. The sales cycle was painfully long, and we finally got our first big breaks with a couple clients who agreed to learn more about the product. We were in DC demo’ing the product when a key decision-maker for one of the clients, a woman in her late 30’s, invited me to dinner, alone.

I was uncomfortable and the context clearly seemed sexual since she did not invite my teammates. I asked the team what I should do about the situation. Their response “take one for the team, man.”

How did you respond?

I went to dinner with her prepared to do anything to get the deal done. The conversation veered somewhere between personal and business matters. It was a candlelit dinner place with a lot of couples, and she kept brushing my hand and arm and saying how impressive it was how hard we worked at our company.  Fortunately it didn’t go any farther than a few dinners, each time I was back in town, maybe because I was friendly and polite but would keep coming back to the professional context.  We ended up getting a paid pilot but we got much farther with the other client faster, and I can’t help but thinking that if I’d responded differently and engaged her, she would have helped us and we’d have had a better commercial result.

Reflections in hindsight?

Men are much less likely to get sympathy when a woman makes unwanted sexual advances.  Culturally I also didn’t feel quite as “dirty” about this as a woman or other men might in the same situation but it was a weird experience and I didn’t know what to make of it – these things definitely can happen on both sides, although I feel like this direction is more rare.

Watercolor by Charlotte Goff

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