What happens with professional relationships that turn sour?
Do you think you can really be friends with your boss and colleagues?
When you get to a certain age we have all had any number of knocks, disappointments, bad experiences and betrayals. Sometimes the wounds are deep and take a while to heal leaving a build up of cumulative scar tissue.
Many try to cover it up, ignore it completely or have the psychological equivalent of laser surgery. But lumped together this becomes the well of experience we can tap into and learn from. Getting these knocks early in your career can actually be a bonus. So to use that old bumper sticker phrase “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Nowhere is this more sensitive, valuable and variable than in the area of personal relationships in the workplace. Is it better to get burnt in your early career and learn some lasting lessons in the best school of all? Life.
I had lived a pretty charmed existence, with almost no scar tissue from my early career. My deepest wounds were to come later, for which I was completely unprepared. At that point I was betrayed and duped by people close to me, or whom I had known both professionally and personally. I thought I knew them, so I was completely thrown for six when I found myself let down and even conned.
You see, I had built up no scar tissue.
Three years ago an encounter with a rogue recruiter left me wiser and poorer. He disappeared owing me a sum of money large enough to matter, but not significant enough to make it economic to pursue him through the courts. This was his modus operandi. I found I had been an easy target. My lesson was to be much tighter with my paperwork and my research and more contained about personal interaction. After a period of extensive cynicism where I viewed everyone with deep distrust, I am finding a balance, but I do remember to touch my professional scar tissue when in doubt .
Jeff is 27 and a Junior Consultant with a major international organisation. He was in two interview processes recently, one with another similar organisation where the job content was less interesting, but offered an excellent compensation package. The second was with an organisation where an old family friend would be his boss. He had been made a verbal offer for what seemed like his dream job. He had instantly established a rapport with the hiring manager, a familiar face from his High School days. They had played squash a few times and a start date had been agreed. Jeff turned down Job Offer 1, but then sadly, Job Offer 2 failed to materialise. An internal candidate was appointed.
Although Jeff hadn’t resigned from his present role (he nearly did) so he does still have a job, but a more junior colleague was promoted over him. This in real terms is demotion by another name. He had discussed his job offer conundrum with his current boss and colleague with whom he is very good friends at their regular TGIF pub outings
The moral of these vignettes of professional relationships that turned sour:
- Just because someone acts like your friend it doesn’t mean to say they are. I found that out to my cost. Your boss in particular will put organisational needs first. Your co-workers can be your competitors.
- The blurring of professional and personal relationships can cause difficulties. I was a victim of white-collar fraud which is more serious and intentional. But caution when confiding personal information in the workplace even with peers, is always advisable.
- In any process you need to find the steps involved and who the decision makers are. A line manager may want you on the team but may not know of other factors playing out in the background: budgets, internal HR policy etc. Try and get as much in writing as you can. People make commitments in good faith and are over ruled. Others go beyond their authority level to impress.
- A verbal offer is not binding. Sort out contractual arrangements before rejecting other offers and especially discussing the situation with your employers.
Jeff is upset, angry and frustrated. Is he wiser? I hope so!
Upside? He now has some career scar tissue!