Education

Can you survive a devastating career faux pas?


Picture this: You're standing in an open area at work and one of your co-workers is in the middle of a diatribe about your boss. She's complaining about how demanding she is and even does a short parody of the woman walking around looking for her lost coffee cup (as she is known to do quite frequently). Now picture the boss walking up behind this person during the "show."

Yeah. That's the stuff nightmares are made of. I actually witnessed that scene once years ago. Even though I was only an observer, the memory of that scene still makes me break out in hives. I've always felt that I should have done something to alert the hapless employee of our boss's presence behind her-like fake a heart attack or blurt something out in Pig Latin-but I didn't. It was over so fast, no one knew what hit 'em, except eventually for the employee who-tipped off by an uncomfortable silence-turned around to find herself staring into the cold, hard eyes of the boss.

Let's put aside the lesson for a minute; that you should, never ever lower yourself to gripe in public like that. Not only because it's not a wise career move, but because it doesn't speak much for your professionalism or maturity level (even if the boss in question was a notoriously spiteful, grudge-holding hag). I'm not saying she was-and if I did, I'd look around first.

But to the extent that everyone is human and can't always control the way we deal with frustration, let's just say stuff happens. My question is, how exactly does one recover from something like that?

This particular employee waited until the boss walked back into her office and she followed her in. They shut the door. Because I've seen way too many Warner Brothers cartoons, I expected to then hear a big crash, then see a big employee-shaped hole in the door.

Some minutes later, my colleague emerged. She said she told her boss that she was very sorry for what she said, she'd been unprofessional, and that she would in the future find more appropriate outlets for her frustrations. I never noticed any outward signs that the apology was not accepted, but I'm wondering if I, myself, could have accepted such an apology from an employee and put it behind me. Could you?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

15 comments
Tommy Orange
Tommy Orange

I dont see what the big deal is - if someone did that to me i would just laugh it off and get on with my day. i have more important things to worry about than someone who is blowing off some steam ...

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Slamming employees is a way of ruining a corporation.There is absolutely nothing wrong with walking away from a slam.Always choose professional.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I could forgive it one time, a second and the person would be out. I would not forget it however, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I would likely have that person under a microscope for some time after the incident, but if I saw a marked improvement and a genuine interest in improvement I would not hold the incident against the person.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

One of the things I have slowly learned is that, as a boss, my personal feelings often don't matter. In the example above, it really doesn't matter whether I accept the apology, but I have to move forward and act as if I did. This does not mean I would forget about the issue. If the individual is showing a pattern of ridiculing teammates, this becomes a behavior I must deal with and not amount of after the fact apologies would suffice. If this is a one-off event, depending upon the context, I might walk away with noticing the event (selective hearing loss is a management attribute) or, if it is being done humorously, I might walk up and ask the individual if anyone has seen my coffee cup. Part of the responsibility of management is to smooth over the rough edges of staff members. It can be difficult, but one often has to act as if an apology has been accepted even though the act may have been personally stinging.

Nodisalsi
Nodisalsi

.. the boss is above petty gripes and gossip, but I fail to see how it likely to threaten one's career; anyone with a decent amount of experience will understand how it's in Human Nature to complain and like the sound of one's own voice when doing so. AFAIK about Employment Law in the UK, it is not within the boss's power to dismiss or even discipline an employee because of personal animosity - a Grievance procedure has to be followed if any action if felt to be necessary. However, if your gripes revealed you were: racist or homophobe then it's likely the boss would be *forced* to address this issue with a disciplinary; and I'm sure most of us would be sympathetic with that.

melekali
melekali

Not being able to move on is what makes us stagnant. This principle is the same when dealing with hurt feelings or learning new technology. We must all learn to move on.

dan.joyce
dan.joyce

Most senior execs understand that watercooler discussions sometimes fall into the "trash barrel". It takes a strong person to continuously not let down their guard. Everyday, our integrity is challenged by the many issues, problems, interactions and even watercooler talks. Each person has a dramatic impact on the culture within an environment. It is important to know that if only one person in that group spoke up and either difused the diatribe by the indivual in question or interuppted and pulled that person to the side. We all make a difference. Maintaining the integerity of the office is a role we all share. I believe in the bloody honest philiosophy, by that I mean if you have an issue talk to the person or dismiss/stow the issue. I love coming to work each day ... I do my best to foster that.

PoconoChuck
PoconoChuck

It depends on the accuracy of the gripes, and how the employee handled it. I've had at least my share of times where I griped about a boss, and as such I am not so thin-skinned to be hurt by criticism (even if I wasn't supposed to hear it). If what was said about me was true, then I have no right to punish the person, especially if the person did a mea-culpa right away. Overall, the value of the employee to my group has to be considered against the actual 'cost' of their gripe about me. If the person delivers for the project, I'll take a few hits. However, if the employee complained about something outside of my managerial control (i.e. if I had an impairment, say a limp, and the person made a cold-hearted jab about it), that would beyond decorum.

JamesRL
JamesRL

At one of my previous employers, I wrote a memo that highlighted an issue in another department, an issue that had been ongoing and showed no sign of resolution. I had felt, as did my boss and other senior VPs that is not only was in my pervue to write the memo it was my responsibility. When I sent it out I made the mistake of not copying in the director of the department. I got yelled at the next day by the director. I then went to see my boss and my boss' boss (the CFO). They both downplayed my error, and agreed with the tone and the information in the memo. But they also explained to me that for the sake of the ongoing relationship with the other group, I needed to eat my pride and make a full and unrestricted apology for the mistake, the tone and for not giving them the chance to address the issue before I sent out the memo. The CFO, who I respect a great deal, basically told me that I had to put those personal feelings aside and just take one for the team. He explained how vital the co-operation of the other department was in my project. He showed empathy towards me. And he sat in with me during my formal session, and I am sure his presence lessened the amount of verbal pounding I took. Moving forward was and is the goal. I may have taken some mean pleasure in the fact that the CIO and the director who yelled at me were fired a few months later, for cause. James

shodges119
shodges119

As a former techie I remember talking about a certain boss who way past the days it was cool had a Mullet and an earring. He was also a bit overweight. But after a while I realized he had some great knowledge and looked after his people in a very hard situation. Fast Forward to current times and I have now become the manager. I have walked into discussions concerning my "Southern Drawl" in a not so professional manner. I typically laugh to get their attention and then repeat the statement they just mocked saying they did it all wrong. "Ya Might Augta git it right when mocking me. not Yall Ought to get it right". It generally lightens the mood and while making the person I caught realize they were caught without loosing a good employee over water cooler humor.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

I'd laugh it off if I were the boss, but I would give a stern warning about goofing off in the office and behaving unprofessionally. Yes, we all have our quirks and even I used to mock my boss's funny cliches and one line snippets, but even I know when too much is too much.

Shellbot
Shellbot

If I had done that, I'm not sure I could have shown my face in the office again. I guess we do what we have to, but it just reminds me that its easier to be careful than deal with the aftermath. If it had been done to me, not sure how I'd react. Part of me says I'd hold a grudge, part of me says I might just take it onboard and find out why it happened, then try to change it.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Couple of weeks back I was in a meeting with my peers and my boss. My boss' boss came in at one point to listen and to comment. He walked in the door looked at me and said, "what happened to you, forget to comb your hair this morning?". I replied, "well at least I have some to brush". My boss' boss is nearly bald. He did the mock angry face and came around and shook me by the shoulders. He was grinning his face off. However I would NEVER say that behind his back. James

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I would laugh it off. If I do stupid things often, then it is OK to make fun of it. Just like, if I see you making fun of me, I will tease you as well. But, I would do it in front of you, not hiding it. I have, in the past, been real demanding. This usually came around when stress levels were high cause I was getting reamed by my managers. But, I always tried to work with my employees if there was a problem. Also, I made it known that they could come to me with anything, even if they felt I was mis-handling an issue. All in all, even when they were pissed at me for working them too hard, they were in a position to understand the situation. And they knew that if they disagreed, even after they came to me with a problem, I would call my manager and all of us would have a meeting to straighten it out. This allows them to communicate their concerns higher than me, that way they knew that proper attention was being addressed.

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