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?