About to bite you in the butt, you say? It already has, and hard.
Rona Maynard’s career as a pace-setting magazine editor, award-winning journalist, acclaimed author and inspirational speaker owes much to the lessons she has drawn from coping with difficult people, both professionally and personally. Rona edited Chatelaine, Canada’s number one magazine for women, during a decade of innovation in which she attracted a new generation of readers. Rona continues to share her life-tested wisdom on her award-winning interactive website, ronamaynard.com, and at the podium. Her most sought-after speech is “Life-Changing Lessons from Difficult People.” Readers continent-wide have found themselves reflected in her memoir My Mother’s Daughter (Emblem Editions).
“I made a comment about a coworker that I know I shouldn’t have and now I think it’s going to bite me in the butt. I noticed that one of my coworkers leaves for lunch everyday and then comes back and eats his lunch at his desk… How should I play this?” (Read letter.)
OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER RONA MAYNARD
Dear Hot Water,
About to bite you in the butt, you say? It already has, and hard. Your co-worker has a good notion who’s been questioning his loyalty–and now your boss does, too. The sooner you come clean and accept responsibility for playing fast and loose with your colleague’s reputation, the better your chances of salvaging your own.
There comes a point in every career where you simply have to swallow your pride and say, without equivocation or excuses, “I screwed up and I couldn’t be sorrier.” For you that turning point is now. Successful people understand the power of an apology to bridge painful differences and demonstrate moral courage–a quality too rarely seen in the workplace. The only way to acquire that kind of courage is to expect it of yourself.
I doubt if you think of yourself as a courageous person. Dissing someone behind his back is hardly a brave thing to do, and I don’t wonder that you’re scared of your colleague’s anger. Put yourself in his shoes: wouldn’t you be seriously steamed if you’d been the object of groundless gossip?
Now suppose the person who wronged you were to take you aside and say, “I know how upset you are about the rumours flying around the office. I know they’re not true–because I was the one who started them. I was idly thinking out loud and I’m terribly sorry that I did. I wish I could turn back the clock and unsay what I said. Since I can’t do that, I’m going to go to each one of our colleagues and tell them what I’ve just told you. I don’t know if you can find it in your heart to forgive me. But I do know I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I won’t be speculating out loud about you or anyone else in this office.”
How would you feel if you heard this confession? Maybe you’d still be hopping mad. Maybe your first response would be “You nasty little snitch! What gives you the right to police my lunch hour? How could you possibly get the idea that I was moonlighting instead of having my teeth cleaned [or meeting my kid's teacher or whatever]?” You might feel moved to add, “Talk is cheap! You’ve already proven that you can’t be trusted!” But suppose the offending colleague let you vent and then said quietly, “I understand why you’re not ready to forgive me. But I promise I’ll do everything I can to earn your trust and the trust of our team.”
Admit it: wouldn’t the closed door in your mind swing open at least few inches?
Everything I learned about apologies, I learned the hard way. I once shot my mouth off at the office and grievously offended someone who took her time to forgive me. My failure of judgment did not involve gossip, but in every convincing apology the same template applies: accept responsibility, show remorse and let the injured party know what you’re going to do to set things right between you. Then, of course, you have to follow through and prove that you’ve learned from your mistake. In your case, this means no more loose talk about your colleagues.
One final word of advice: before you come clean with your colleague, share your action plan with your manager, who may have ideas for fine-tuning it. Your boss should hear about your change of heart from you–not from a colleague who may still be holding a grudge.
Change of heart. Let that be your goal. Ask yourself how a trustworthy colleague behaves, and make those behaviours your own. A few years from now, you may look back on this painful affair as one of the most important lessons of your career.
Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com.
Wishing you courage,
Rona Maynard, Author
Rona Maynard’s career as an award-winning journalist, leading magazine editor, acclaimed author and inspirational speaker owes much to the lessons she has drawn from coping with difficult people, both professionally and personally.
Rona edited Chatelaine, Canada’s number one magazine for women, during a decade of growth and innovation in which she attracted a new generation of readers to the franchise. While meeting every benchmark of success, she contended daily with complaints from readers, directives from corporate brass and the strong personalities on her creative staff, who ranged from seasoned baby boomers to Gen Yers with sharply different expectations. The team Rona built was honored internationally for journalism, design and overall editorial excellence. A dedicated mentor, she groomed five people who went on to edit national magazines—among many others who are now viewed as leaders in their industry.
When Rona had fulfilled her vision for Chatelaine, she stepped down to write the memoir her readers had been asking for. In My Mother’s Daughter, she tells the no-holds-barred story of how she became her own woman because of—and in spite of—the enthralling but domineering woman who formed her. From her struggles with a crazy-making boss, an undermining colleague and an alcoholic father, she draws a road map to living with integrity, purpose and joy. Alice Munro has called My Mother’s Daughter “wonderfully honest and enthralling.”
Rona continues to share her hard-won wisdom on her award-winning interactive website, ronamaynard.com, and at the podium. Her most sought-after speech is “Life-Changing Lessons from Difficult People.” Audiences say that Rona’s message brings them energy, hope and pointers they can use to transform their own lives.
Rona’s personal honors include a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, a National Champion of Mental Health Award and a Woman of Action Award from the Israel Cancer Research Fund, as well as numerous writing awards.