Rob Yeung's Answer:
You're dead right that perception is as good as reality. In fact, perception often trumps reality. However, you recognise that the situation is an important one and that's a great start.
You say that you have made some mistakes and that your female boss has since sandbagged you. I wonder if you have tried to have a one-to-one discussion with this female ex-boss of yours.
Sometimes, when emotions run high, people can bear grudges. But if you take her aside, perhaps out for a lunch or coffee meeting outside of the workplace and have a discussion with her, you can repair the relationship you once had with her.
Often, a sincere apology can be enough to get people on side again. Even if you don't believe you were at fault, apologise for having let her down. Contrition and humility may get a better result than trying to argue with her through logic alone. If you have already tried that, then talk to other stakeholders across the business to get their opinions as to why she may still have an issue with you.
If she is reluctant to meet with you, then suggest to the SVP that you, she, and the SVP meet in a three-way discussion. I think it could be dangerous to have a meeting with the SVP alone – if you do that then she could easily believe that you are playing politics and trying to stab her in the back.
Of course, the other way you can defend your reputation is to ensure that your work is of the highest quality. Make sure you go the extra mile for the foreseeable future – deliver your work on time, communicate problems well ahead of time, involve all of the necessary stakeholders, keep an audit trail of what you have agreed to do, and so on. You have to be squeaky clean in your work to ensure that your ex-boss has no ammunition with which she can cut you down.
In terms of managing your emotions, I suggest planning all of your encounters with your ex-boss, your manager, and the SVP. Prepare bullet points before you go into meetings with any of them so you know what you should say and what you should avoid saying. The more thought you can put into preparing for meetings, the less likely you are to blurt something out that could be used against you.
I really empathize with you. I was working with a boss who had a 'my way or the highway' mentality even if it didn't serve the company's best interest and all others who'd worked in his division were very submissive. I actually stood my ground and am now paying for it.
A clash erupted and I asked for a transfer. Since then my ex-boss has been on a one-way mission to destroy my reputation and credibility in the company at every chance he gets and to anyone with ears. I too am or I'll say 'used to be' extremely emotional in such instances and would keep eating away at the topic until it drained me in every sense.
What I decided was to 'let go'. I had empowering beliefs of my potential and capabilities and was not going to let one person's prejudice burn me. I was extremely professional and polite in every encounter and put on a 'solutions' thinking cap instead of a doom and gloom drama one. It made me work harder and toughened me up but my persistent effort has paid off and everyone I work with sees the truth of who I am rather than the deformed perception of someone else.
I've since been promoted to a senior role taking on much of my ex-bosses responsibilities. I guess it's true, 'what goes around comes around'.
Great advice Rob. Letting go of your emotional response is not easy when science tells us the emotional processor operates 80,000 times faster than the logical one. The assumption that business is all logic defies and denies the most powerful fuel that runs through us all~ managing it is the trick. A great reference for learning how to flow with the conflict rather than be drowned by it (emotion is like water: fluid, subject to a range of intensities), is The Magic of Conflict by Thom Crum. In it he explains the psychophysiological process of centering which simply put amounts to breathing into your diaphragm moving all mental energy down to that center. it takes a lot of practise but doing it is key to managing your emotions when you are under fire or walking into the flames. Any time you are centered in your mental energy, reaction is one nanosecond away. Essentially your emotions hijack you. This is helpful because it shows you that old wounds about acceptance and approval are alive and well in the subconscious. Transforming those beliefs into something more empowering and useful will ultimately create an immunity to attacks like the ones you are experiencing now. There is no emotional charge. For your boss to be undertaking such destructive activity suggests that she/he too is operating from a massive amount of fear and probably insecurity. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by not subscribing to his/her hype. Hope that helps.