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 trade association coercively removed me 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 me 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.
The SP of the specialty chocolate trade association blocked me.
I couldn’t believe such an inconsiderate reaction, just because I would never have done that as someone 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 the same 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 SP of 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 into my mind at the moment successive to that rude and shortsighted action was not my sense of guilt 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 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 trade association (‘kicked out‘ would have been too strong to admit for their political correctness.) Undisclosed ‘Officers‘ (probably on behalf of only one person, like the tyrannical SP, afraid of revealing his name to avoid marking the shame of his action) 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 him to talk as two accountable individuals. (At that point, I had to admit my faults in hoping for something better changing from his side after the way he 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 an aggressive, 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 trade association 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 and cowardly SP and his organization 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 to us anymore.‘ They sent me the consequent conclusion that, should they organize an event to invite speakers and guests in the industry, I won’t, I can’t be welcome to them anymore. Should I mention them on my public updates, they will ignore me straightly as if I weren’t a voice belonging to their industry anymore.
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 a trade association that nobly aims to represent the specialty chocolate industry and, at the same time, resorts to blocking, ostracizing, and silencing people. It’s a paradox that I, and anybody else in this industry, should never accept.
To let empathize the reader 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.
The silent treatment I received from the specialty chocolate organization felt like the Inquisition in disguise. 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, because it’s entirely one-sided for the communication being either ‘allowed’ or ‘withdrawn’ by the abuser who (mistakenly) feels the only one in power in the conversation to appear dominating and controlling to the other. The silent treatment is then a form of passive aggression abuse employed to punish someone and thus discredit that person.
The mistreatment I received from that organization is abuse. Something much worse and more impacting than being mobbed and bullied.
The careless SP of that organization discarded me overnight like an undesired object, being void of any remorse and emotional intelligence on the effects of his reaction, canceling with his dark wand our continued professional contact and my support to his group for two years, removing every single trace of my existence from the history of his organization.
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.
If I were to use an analogy based on how it subtly but degradingly felt on myself, the silent treatment I endured due to the hostile environment of the specialty chocolate organization was like reverse persecution. Not active and frontal, but passive and back-end vindictiveness and sentencing. 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’ of their reality.
The silent treatment has nothing to do with healthfully being in control of the 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 out of the blue.
The silent treatment, according to psychology, is a severe manifestation of narcissistic manipulation. The silent treatment is mental abuse and not a good sign on the intentions of the person doing it, be it professionally or personally. The silent treatment of that specialty chocolate trade association hurt me, mentally and professionally. Insurmountably.
Every morning, for weeks and months, I woke up with indescribable emotional distress I never experienced in my life before. That was a symptom that the situation I endured with the dysfunctional organization was too concerning to believe and accept as part of the reality in the industry I care about and support. The evil that the organization unfolded on me affected me so intimately that I could no longer focus my efforts on my long-term and daily schedules appropriately. I could no longer follow up with the amazing and generous chocolate makers and brands who sent me products to review and had an inspiring story waiting to be told on my blog and social media.
Since September 2020, I have been feeling so distressed and drained that I no longer feel like tasting new chocolate, publishing new product reviews and brand mentions, and sticking to my habits as a communicator in the specialty chocolate industry. I had to change (and even renounce) some of my habits to ‘redistribute’ my energies somewhere else and counteract the burden of negativity caused by the vilification the organization turned against my existence.
We all want to live and feed only positive experiences, but what I went through due to that organization was objectively unacceptable—and, still is, for being still blocked, ostracized, and silenced by them. It was an experience so bad that I felt too impotent to pretend it wasn’t so severe I could step over it and come back to a healthy reality as if nothing occurred.
In the last six months, nobody in the industry knew about my mistreatment because I still hoped, with my few energies left, for conflict resolution with the organization.
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. 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.
That 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.
The SP of that group promoting specialty chocolate says to care about women empowerment among his core values. I, logically, cannot agree with such a deceiving statement, given the communication block, group ostracization, and voice ban retaliated with covert oppression and unsuspicious hate against me as a woman.
A male professional who shows up so abusive of his power to exert control and a man who shows up so entitled and cowardly to feel the need to shut down and alienate only one woman, it’s a male professional and man with a history and potential to shut down and alienate other women too. A male professional and man who acts like that cannot, for sure, be credible on women empowerment when he talks women empowerment.
What that specialty chocolate organization would 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 abusive 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.
Writing this article was not a piece of cake, as I hope you may have imagined. Only trying to express with effective words the extent of the mistreatment I endured by the hand of that organization was a gigantic effort for the underlying emotional burden I held back. I understand that some of you, as a professional or company, get benefits for being part of that organization and endorsing it. I support your position because each productive industry needs professionals and companies advocating for an organization that seems to promote their business and advance the whole industry.
However, as a truthful communicator in the industry, I have the responsibility and right to report honest and informed views to my readers.
Minimizing the reality doesn’t serve anyone in the big picture. That’s my role in the industry, and I am happy and grateful for the comprehension and acknowledgment you demonstrate by consciously reading my words.
What is certain from my experience herein reported, what happened to me should not happen to someone else, ever again.
I can and will only stand up for what is right to stand up for through my conscience, voice, and power to speak.
Things can only get better if we have the courage to speak the truth, especially in the specialty chocolate industry.