Lynne Curry: Workplace issues reveal character

Lynne Curry

Suppose you make a casual comment that damages your co-worker's reputation with a third party. When your co-worker calls you on it, she does so in an attacking manner. Do you get defensive and try to explain away what you said? Do you get angry with her despite the fact your actions triggered her explosion? Or do you admit you blew it and genuinely apologize?

What if in a moment of inattention you botch a situation in a way that embarrasses your manager with a client? Do you try to rationalize that workload stress led you to trip up, minimizing your accountability? Or do you completely own what happened and vow to never again let distraction derail you?

When you do the right thing to correct a problem with a customer -- that the customer might not even have noticed -- and your co-workers consider you foolish -- do you wonder if you should have let the issue pass unnoticed? When you pass information to a supervisor and the majority of your co-workers turn against you for ratting them out, do you retreat? Or, even if others don't understand, do you stand for what's right?

In short, do you pass the workplace character test? Consider these thoughts:


When you blow it, admit it

Many workers weasel when they make a mistake, justifying their actions, explaining the circumstances, denying they blew it. Hoping strong lungs make up for a weak conscience, they compound their mistakes with an unwillingness to fess up and be done with it. Despite a landslide of evidence showing their handling of a situation or decision didn't work, they stoutly defend what they did.

The rest of us see this for what it is and although we can generally forgive a co-worker's or employee's mistake, we resent the cover-up attempt. Thus, those who evade responsibility, deepen the damage.


No blame shifting

Generally, several individuals play a part in a workplace train wreck. Perhaps others didn't give you the information you needed and so you procrastinated a project into oblivion. Possibly you relied on someone to brief you -- and that person left out crucial details and as a result you acted unwisely.

When you take the easy road, you point fingers and explain away your role in the mess. Unfortunately and regardless of others' culpability, the buck stops with you. Defensive posturing and finger-pointing only add mud to the mess.


Realize others see through rationalizations

Sometimes we waste others' time and our own trying to explain our way out of a mess. We prettily package what happened so we can cover errors of judgment, gaps in our performance or the real differences between our intentions and reality.

We need to give this up. By understanding we can't fool others for long and that the truth is our best defense, we free ourselves and can move forward.


Learn the lesson and rise above it

When you slip up or face a challenge you didn't expect, you may wonder "why me?" Instead, change your view to "I have a chance to show what I'm made of" and you establish a stronger base from which to move forward.

Most workplace character tests reveal your current weaknesses, not your future. If you consider your mistakes missteps on your way forward you learn the past matters less than the future. The sooner you address your mistakes and the issues that confront you, the quicker you become a better person. As English historian James Froude said, "You cannot dream yourself into a character, you must hammer and forge yourself one."

Will you pass your next workplace character test?


Whistleblower rights

In last week's column, one question came from restaurant server who felt she'd been fired after voicing concerns about health code and safety violations to her manager. The Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Program wants ADN readers know that it enforces whistleblower laws that give employees the right to express occupational safety and health concerns to managers. If an employee experiences retaliation as a result doing so, she may file a whistleblower complaint with the occupational safety and health program.



Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm, The Growth Co. Inc. Send questions to or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.



Lynne Curry