On top of the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s safety concerns and social restrictions, professional growth and mental health represented two interconnected aspects more important than ever for our well-being and a sense of purpose in an already challenging reality. In a world plagued enough with social discontent in 2020, inclusion and belonging to a specific community and mission symbolized an unprecedented opportunity for many professionals connecting remotely to advance their impact within a particular industry.
The industry of craft and specialty chocolate makers, fine cacao growers and traders, and chocolate equipment suppliers is slowly but healthily growing despite the slight drawbacks encountered in 2020. Yet, effective and consistent communication about the industry still presents crucial gaps, such as providing more precise definitions to ease the appreciation of specialty chocolate for the end-user. Everyone in the specialty chocolate industry is throwing their individualized message at the end-user. However, we all fail to realize how we are missing out on forming a solid, equitable, and inclusive community in the likes of the successful ones established for fine wine, craft beer, or specialty coffee.
As a communicator, belonging to a specific organization representing the industry I advocate for was of utmost importance in the past two years, even more so in times of social limitations like this. Until questionable dynamics running in the same group emerged to dysfunctionally deliberate my exclusion indefinitely, despite my positive interactions, supportive contributions, and steadfast commitment to the benefit and betterment of the same industry.
Six months ago, a specialty chocolate organization one-sidedly and cruelly mistreated me through an escalation of inhuman exclusion. They removed me from their picture without being open to a civil conversation and intentionally denied my right to belong and be acknowledged as a resourceful contributor to the industry.
All started with some heated remarks I shared with the person most accountable for the organization, whom I will acronymize as ‘SP‘ (‘Specific Person‘), back in August 2020. One of our last chats was punctuated with frustration by my part for the constructive criticism moved to his late choices regarding some newly-hired staff personnel wearing too many hats and pointing, in particular, to their Communication outcomes falling a little ‘all over the place.’ Besides, they formerly gave expectations we would collaborate to help them support their Communication. Even if I may have been a little unapologetic in my remarks about that situation, I reasonably think that those circumstances didn’t deserve the poor reaction that SP threw at me with care disproportionately small to his position for the institution and industry he represented.
I got blocked.
I couldn’t believe such an inconsiderate reaction, just because I would never have done that as a human equipped with a little intellect, grace, and foresight. Especially since a mutually beneficial professional relationship would be at stake. Even more so because I, as an affirmed blog writer in the industry counting thousands of monthly visits on my website, have the immense power to make evident to others the extent of cruelty backfired on me to ‘repress’ the same truthfulness highly cherished in this industry.
Except for rare cases with strangers or trolls, I never blocked anyone in my life because I never needed to for being confident in most situations. Also, I am aware of how immature blocking could be for the recipient, but that’s what the organization superficially turned against my long-appreciated honesty and participation. A self-confident, trustworthy, and motivating leader wouldn’t ever have done that. He wouldn’t ever have needed to block me if he had the assertiveness, decency, and class to appropriately interact with my caliber and the value and worth I can recognize to myself as a conscious being.
So, the first thing that came up in my mind at the moment successive to that rude and shortsighted action was not my sense of guilty raising for something I said, no, never. But just one clear and big word: inadequacy. And the organization did not end the mistreatment in store for me yet!
Instead of receiving apologies for that SP’s questionable reaction, the sad situation got exacerbated to the worst the organization could perform to further affirm their ultimate entitlement against me.
- In October 2020, I was ‘amicably‘ removed from the organization (‘kicked out‘ would have been too strong to admit for their political correctness.) Undisclosed ‘Officers‘ signed a scant letter reporting concerns about my messages’ content not being consistent with their values. (What?!? Because they thought to have any for writing and sending me that stuff!)
- I then got immediately ‘persecuted’ online by their willful avoidance, being blocked on all of my social media accounts and profiles (without me ever saying or doing something wrong or harmful against them publicly, on the opposite.)
- In November 2020, after some (reasonable) attempts to find a civil and grown conversation to come to a healthy conciliation with the regimental and myopic organization, my emails even got filtered out (blocked) from their inbox! (I was tracking every single email at that time, and I could see how the vicious ‘Officers‘ even stopped opening my messages!)
- Lastly, in January 2021, the SP of the narrow-minded group even dared hanging up on me on the landline on the only occasion I gracefully conceded them to talk as two accountable individuals. (At that point, I could admit my faults in hoping for something better changing from their side after the way they rudely denied and ostracized me before through former means of contact.)
Days, weeks, and months passed for me, filled with emotional distress, anger, and resentment for such a deep, childish, and staggering mistreatment and BS that the specialty chocolate organization retaliated against my existence in every place on earth. It was clear that that organization was and (unfortunately, still is) guided by sub-par, scorned, and toxic leadership with no respect for a human being to feel the need to be so abusive of their power and unbearably entitled to persecute a former member. After that excruciation of pain infliction, what was clear for me was, I wasn’t exactly given a friendly and fair treatment after such a series of oppressive, spiteful, and unhealthy actions.
Only later on could I realize how I was purposefully targeted and dehumanized as a person and professional and the unique qualities I can bring to a communal table as a creative individual. The moment the sly organization committed the crime against me, they likely believed and hoped to lower the perception of my value and worth as a person and professional, making them feel ‘right’ for enforcing such punitive silencing aggression and emotionally draining execution. However, what was worst, which they didn’t realize in the broader picture of their stinging and psychopathic actions, was the consequent meaning of their cruel ostracization over me from their group.
After all the mistreatment records, the message the scheming team of coward players signaled to me by their meanness was just not social exclusion, communication withdrawal, and group ostracization, but the implying ‘We don’t consider you anymore. We won’t be inspired by your work and personality anymore. You aren’t welcome anymore to us.‘
We can agree that nobody is perfect in this world, but the treatment I received was objectively excessive and unnecessary. I can’t associate anything good with an organization that nobly aims to represent the specialty chocolate industry and, at the same time, resorts to blocking, ostracizing, and silencing. It’s a paradox that I, and anybody else in this industry, should never accept.
To let empathize with the emotional burden I went through over the last six months that I was ‘banned’ with detrimental consequences on my productivity and sense of self, I will briefly but effectively explain what the process of excluding and silencing meant to me. It was an incident so hurtful to stand that I never experienced something similar before, not even after a romantic relationship breakup.
Silent treatment feels like modern Inquisition. I am not joking; this is the truth I faced (and the gradually ‘closed doors’ slammed to me with zero empathy for my feelings.)
The silent treatment is not ‘avoid talking to another person anymore.’ No. It’s much more disturbing and destabilizing for the recipient than most other ‘active’ forms of mistreatment. It is a form of passive aggression abuse employed to punish someone and thus yield harmful repercussions.
The mistreatment I received from that organization is abuse. Something much worse and more impacting than being mobbed and bullied.
Even if counterintuitive, most people would prefer yelling and name-calling rather than receiving the silent treatment because the latter triggers an area of the brain that is the same experienced for physical discomfort and stress. That explains why the silent treatment I got was such a ferocious form of abuse. All humans are wired to have and nurture social connections. Their denial and rejection automatically mean that the silent treatment dehumanizes the recipient, leaving her confused, guilty, or unworthy of attention and communication.
It’s a concerning and damaging mental weapon used against a targeted person because it essentially makes her devalued for receiving unexpected and sudden modification in the abuser’s behavior. (What the SP of the organization did when he suddenly blocked me without care and empathy with how I could feel due to his evil action.)
If I were to use an analogy based on how it subtly but degradingly felt on myself, the silent treatment I endured was like reverse persecution. Not active and visible, but passive and invisible vindictiveness and execution. I was not merely ignored or shunned; that would have made indifference enough. Instead, the organization found some power boost and pleasure spike in escalating their neglecting action against me to intentionally and cruelly ‘carve me out’ from their reality.
The silent treatment has nothing to do with healthfully being in control of reality by using our power of self-awareness and self-determination while still being respectful to others. It has the intention to hurt a specific person through a behavioral modification adopted against that particular person.
I got hurt. Insurmountably. And, in the last six months, nobody in the industry knew about it because I still hoped, with my few energies left, for conflict resolution with the dysfunctional-led organization and their inability to receive and enclose sincere but helpful feedback.
Conflict resolution matters.
Instead, blocking and punishing someone with the silent treatment can only feed a toxic culture of grown men and women who can’t handle an honest discussion because they can’t either respect or value the opinions and feelings of the interlocutor. When they don’t like what another person is saying or standing up for, it’s not the other person’s fault. It’s theirs. This is even truer for professional relationships and people in a position of power who cannot afford to choose a scarce reaction like blocking because unable to move through the muds of a difficult conversation.
Blocking and silencing are not addressing an obstacle; it’s just avoiding it in the hope it won’t emerge anymore in one’s way. But the conflict is still there, only risking to grow for the worse. Avoiding a conflict is not managing it. That is not what leaders do. A great commander doesn’t abandon his seat because he felt too uncomfortable to handle a difficult situation alone. A great commander takes full accountability for managing any case, even the most uncomfortable one, and motivates his team to follow suit by example.
This group promoting specialty chocolate says to care about diversity among their core values. I, logically, cannot agree with such a deceiving statement, after the cruel ostracization and silent treatment they served me. What they need to do is be comfortable with the uncomfortable discussions, not taking the shortcut of silencing passionate people they perceive more as a threat than a resource, and then retaliating against them with bigotry and punishment, risking to appear too territorial. This behavior only creates a false sense of belonging to high-value ethics, hiding the egoistic safeguard of an oligarchy too much attached to their status quo.
We have the right to speak up for ourselves. We can’t sweep destructive behaviors under the rug if we passively assist or are victim to one. It’s about people who believe that they cannot improve things by providing valuable feedback. Everybody has one when we feel encouraged to offer it. We cannot be held back by the intimidation that if we speak out, we will be coercively singled out and muted, ‘taken away’ from belonging to a group, and excluded from participating in strategic discussions to advance the industry all.
What do you think of this concerning behavior in the specialty chocolate industry for which we are so passionate to advocate?