August 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm #167715
This question came across my desk from a GovLoop member who for some obvious reasons wanted to stay anonymous, but I think the question still rings true and wanted to throw it out to the community for discussion:
I have made a professional mistake and would like some advice. In a previous position with the federal government, I worked for a supervisor that was a great person, but did not have the best management skills. My mistake? I commiserated with a coworker in a semi-private setting. Another person was present that I thought I could trust. However, I noticed my supervisor started to get distant, although we still had limited interaction as part of my job. I left for another position, but recently saw my previous supervisor. Time (and maturity) has given me perspective, and I actually believe this supervisor forced me to have skills that are now essential for my current position. I wanted to thank him for the experience, but he avoided me like the plague. I feel terrible because I should have acted more professionally, and because I actually like the supervisor as a person. (Secondarily, I am also concerned about my own reputation, because I work for a very small agency as a contractor.) Any advice? Shall I try to meet with him, send him a note/email, or leave things be? This will be the last time I make this mistake – you never know what a manager is facing or how difficult his own position can be, and I cannot take back my own words.
So what would you do? Is it worth saying sorry or best to just move on and live and learn?
August 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm #167745
I think a nice note/email would be great – focus on the positive but just say how was thinking how much learned from him/etc.
Very few people ever write these notes but I know people love them – my sister is a teacher and gets one like every 3 years from a past graduate (sometimes someone you’d never guess saying items like I hated your class at the time and I know was a bad student but you helped me learn how to write which really helped me in first year of college/etc) and it is really meaningful
August 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm #167743
Gracious behavior is always welcome. I suggest that when the individual meets or has contact with the former supervisor that he/she describe the supervisor’s impact. I once supervised an employee who could not stand me. A couple of years later, I ran into her and she thanked me for redirecting her behavior. I was flattered.
We all make mistakes. This individual has learned an important lesson early in his/her career. Always be professional and don’t assume people are your friends or deserve your confidences. People can be very unusual political animals.
August 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm #167741
You could send your former supervisor a letter thanking them for developing your x competencies because you can now y and as a result are now doing z. I wouldn’t apologize in writing though. You don’t know how much was said to them, where the note could go and could make your situation worse. And remember, not everyone can help your career, but most anyone can hurt it. Try never to say anything negative unless you have to do so and then only to your mentor or the person with whom you have the problem.
August 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm #167739
Send a quick note on LinkedIn asking to connect and saying “It was nice to see you the other day. I was just thinking that although the work was challenging at times, I really appreciated how you taught me ____ and ____. I didn’t understand how important those lessons were at the time, but now I think of them often. Thank you.”
Sort of a non-apology and an apology at the same time that could cover whatever the gossip was.
August 14, 2012 at 2:44 am #167737
Send a note. It will clear your conscience and you can move forward with a clean slate.
August 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm #167735
Many of us have something like this in our past. A teacher, mentor, or parent who helped mold us; but maybe we were not as willing or appreciative as we should have been.
I think Dannielle has the right wording, but I’d suggest old-fashioned email or a letter. And if you run into each other again, it wouldn’t hurt to say it as well.
August 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm #167733
I think this is an excellent suggestion and a very pc way to handle it.
August 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm #167731
Take some time and reflect on what it will take for you sleep well at night and then do that – whatever it is; however hard it may be. Because life is too short to live it any other way.
August 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm #167729
David Earl GreenParticipant
I think you have answered your own question in so many words. A mistake was made, address the issue and let the chip fall where they may. A clear conscious is always a step in the right direction. Who knows you may be surprised with the outcome.
August 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm #167727
August 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm #167725
What did you say that could have caused that harsh of a reaction (rhetorical question)? Are you postive he knows what you said? Are you worried that this might negatively affect your future career path? Or, are you truly sorry? Of course, it is best not to gossip about your managers or co-workers behind their backs to other co-workers or managers.
It always depends on the relationship. Sometimes it’s better to let bygones be bygones. Do you want to have a personal or business relationship with this person, or do you just want to make amends?
Option 1: Did you have a good relationship with your former manager? Pretend it never happened and that you don’t know anything about it. Invite him to lunch or coffee to catch up.
Option 2: Learn from your mistake and move on. I wouldn’t put admission of gossiping or slander in writing.
August 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm #167723
IMHO (in my humble opinion), each person we meet adds to our resume, even those who may not seem to have a positive influence on us at the time (I have learned this from experience as well). Since you and your previous supervisor did not have a conversation about what transpired, you do not really know if he/she appeared to avoid you for that reason or if unbeknownst to you, there were other things in play at the time. Also, both supervisors and employees (good, bad, or indifferent) usually do not appear good, bad, or indifferent to only one person. Good supervisors and employees are good to many people and likewise for ones not so good.
To make a long story short, if someone has had a positive influence on either you or on your career, my suggestion is to let that person know the skills that he/she helped you to develop and thank the person for doing so. Life is too short to be at odds with any one individual. If nothing else, letting the water under the bridge go will help you to clear your conscience and that would be a good thing (IMHO).
August 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm #167721
Great Facebook comment –
“As with most things, it depends. You gave an example online of an awkward situation which made the person asking for help feel very guilty, but I can’t find a single thing that she did wrong to feel so low (assuming that her “crime” was as casual as it seems to be, and not over-the-top). For little things – like cc’ing someone after the fact “oops – forgot to include you!” – sure, say sorry often and graciously. But don’t make mountains out of molehills or profusely apologize when you didn’t do anything wrong – to me, it makes you look like a nervous, submissive wreck, and that’s even less fun in the office.”
Check out GovLoop’s Facebook Page for more.
August 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm #167719
What is missing in your note is any understanding of how your comments may have affected your supervisor, his career, his reputation and so on. Your note still says, “how you feel”.
I think an e-mail that maturely addresses the issue is needed but it is unlikely to mend relationship.
August 18, 2012 at 12:32 am #167717
I was talking to someone at work today about emotion at work – that people harbor a lot of strong feelings but on the outside you can’t tell.
The fact that there is so much angst and conversation around this one instance of office gossip and its aftermath really shows me how true this is. If you think about it work is kindergarten all over again and we are all just like schoolkids inside. We are painfully aware of how we do or don’t fit in, what others think of us, etc.
This reminds me of something a supervisor told me long ago about meetings. She said that people “harbor” a lot of emotion about what goes on there. A seemingly small comment, joke or slight festers inside them because there is no really safe way to let it out at work.
This is why it’s better not to be a lightning rod at work, if you can. Because when you show a lot of emotion, intensity, etc. you bring up those strong emotions in others and then the conflict can become disruptive.
Since there’s a lot that can bring up stress at work, a good way to channel it is through humor rather than complaining. But it’s hard to laugh when you feel frustrated.
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