Q: I’ve only been with my new company for six months and I like to keep my personal life private. The problem is I’m going through a hellacious divorce. My ex-husband is an abuser and fighting for joint custody of our kids. That means I’ll have to take time off to meet with my attorney (who doesn’t have evening or weekend hours) and take personal calls during the workday.
Yesterday, I lost it at work and screamed at a customer. One of my co-workers took over the customer and later took me aside, asking, “What’s up with you?” I told her. It felt so great to talk and have someone understand that I didn’t realize we talked for close to two hours. My supervisor emailed me at the end of the day asking for a meeting this morning. I know she’ll ask me about yesterday. What do I say?
A: When you’re in the midst of a true crisis that turns your world upside down, you need to let your boss know — but just the CliffsNotes version. If you don’t fill her in, she’ll see the trouble signs you can’t hide and start documenting your problem behaviors. Then you’ll need to add “finding a new job” to your upheaval.
While you can also let those you work closely with know what’s going on, don’t turn co-workers into counselors or expect them to excuse persistent bad behavior. In other words, you need to pull it together in the workplace, and minimize both personal calls and drama. No matter what is happening at home, it doesn’t excuse your screaming at your customers or co-workers. If you’ll pull it together every day when you arrive at work, you’ll benefit because you’ll give yourself a daily eight-hour vacation from what’s going on at home.
Q: I’ve always been able to see who has power in an organization. I align with that manager, become their friend and confidant, and when they move up, I do as well. Nine months ago, I joined a growing company with enough turnover among managers that even new hires like me could move up quickly if we showed we had what it takes.
I sized up my immediate supervisor as a roadblock. She wasn’t career ambitious and wasn’t favored by our area manager. Since the area manager had been in on my hiring, we were on a first-name basis, and I let her know how much I admired her and what she’d achieved. We developed a strong relationship, and I took to stopping by her office just before or after lunch.
It just naturally happened that I told her how petty and micromanaging my immediate supervisor was and let her know I had career ambitions. I didn’t see it as throwing my supervisor under the bus; it was the truth. My supervisor got wind of this and our relationship soured. I’d faced this situation before and simply worked my connections with other departments in the company.
Then, 10 days ago, I got fired. I went to the area manager, who said my supervisor had made a compelling case that I didn’t get my work done. She also said she didn’t like being played. I don’t know what to do. I sent my former supervisor an “I’m so very sorry” letter, but she sent it back unopened.
A: What you need to do? Learn and change. Ambition blinded you, but not others. Admit what you did wrong, to both others and yourself. You appear to have employed a career strategy that involves using others and then justifying your actions.
It’s time you reversed your “get ahead by manipulating some and walking over others” patterns. If in the past you’ve used others, be of service to them. If in the past you weren’t straight with others, tell the truth from this moment on, even when it works against your interests. Build a new record, one in which you work hard and respect your immediate supervisor, and you won’t have to write any more unopened mea culpas.