How do I regain a feeling of competence after a robbery?

Recently, I became a manager of a small financial firm. Initially, my mainly male staff either resented me or flirted with me, but now I have won their respect. A week ago, I came to work a few hours early and was accosted by two men who pushed me inside and robbed me. They bound me up, gagged me and left me face down on the floor. I struggled with my usual determination but I could not get loose and had to lie there until four of my staff, arriving two hours later, found me still utterly tied up. They were considerate and sympathetic but my dignity and pride are demolished. I walk around the office trying to feel authoritative but I really just feel empty. How do I regain that feeling of competence?

Manager, female, 33


I like the way you describe your ordeal. You are cool, factual and not self-pitying. You weren’t afraid of your attackers; it is the response of your staff that frightens you.

I don’t find this at all odd. Having one’s staff see one as weak and vulnerable is humiliating. I can also see why you’re discombobulated by their sympathy. I nearly have a fit if anyone in the office says something as mild as “poor you” because I feel they are trying to get one over on me.

But I don’t think the four who untied you did necessarily see you as weak. I am also sure that their sympathy is not the undermining, political kind, but the simple sympathy one feels for anyone in a tight spot.

I am trying to imagine how I’d feel if I had found my boss tied up on the floor on arriving at work. I think, once I had untied her, I’d feel weird about it too, as if the natural order of things had been interrupted. I would want her to return to normal as soon as possible.

What happened was embarrassing for everyone and it is in everyone’s interests to draw a heavy veil over the whole thing. You say you feel empty, which isn’t surprising; that is what happens when one is in shock.

Most readers think you need counselling to help you come to terms with what happened, but I’m not at all convinced.

Instead, I think you need to fake it. Pretend to be exactly as you always were. In time, the memory will recede and you will find you aren’t pretending any more – you’ll be yourself again. And when you are, I believe your staff will think you are even tougher and more professional than they did before.

I’m not worried about your ability to get your authority back. But there is something else that concerns me. Do you really have to get in several hours before everyone else?

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.