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A Not-So-Silent Night- How Do I Take it Back?

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I am one of the managers at a large A/P shared services center in the Midwest. At this year’s holiday party, my spouse cornered my boss and complained to him about my “long hours and low pay.” I didn’t find out about this little encounter until we got home. I’m furious with my spouse, but with time, we’ll work it out. My boss is another matter.

Do I hope he had “one too many,” and won’t remember what happened? Or do I make a point of speaking to him about this conversation? If so, what do I say?

– Embarrassed (company withheld)

Time for an open dialogue

Nearly everyone has a story to tell about a holiday party — and many involve some sort of inappropriate behavior fueled by alcohol. As embarrassing as this incident was, one anonymous reader says “count your blessings,” because in a similar situation, her significant other engaged in sexual harassment! Advice from readers on “damage control” with your boss in this specific situation centers on three strategies:

  • Be up-front and apologize.
  • Turn it to your advantage.
  • Ask for a performance review.

Be up-front and apologize

Several readers say that the best approach is to bring the matter up with your boss and apologize for your out-of-line spouse. In the opinion of one anonymous A/P manager, “If you don’t mention it, the boss may think you planned it. Apologize, say your husband had a few too many drinks, and leave it at that. If the boss says he doesn’t remember, all the better.”

An anonymous payroll manager shares the same view, but offers a different strategy. “Better to address things up-front with your boss — not knowing where the rocks are can be more dangerous than any embarrassment. Ask your boss for a moment to talk about what happened, but rather than blurt everything out, try to open the conversation with a few questions and let HIM do the talking.”

Turn it to your advantage

Reader Dave Pouliot sees this as the opportunity for a win/win outcome. “Your boss may chalk it up to a disgruntled spouse, and most likely will address you,” he says. “This may be your opening for discussions relevant to a balanced work/life schedule. Treat it as a ‘lesson learned’ about discussing your work situations at home and not addressing them in the office, too.”

An anonymous manager also sees an opportunity. “You can demonstrate that you are a problem solver who can face an uncomfortable issue head on and deal with it swiftly and maturely — all excellent qualities for anyone who wants to move ahead in an organization.”

The first step, she says, is to go to your boss and tell him that you are aware your spouse spoke out of concern — but also out of turn. Be honest and let him know that if your work situation is an issue, you will bring up the subject, not your spouse. Apologize for your spouse taking personal liberties and for any resultant confusion.

Another opportunity for a positive outcome comes from a reader who chose to remain anonymous. “If long hours and low pay are indeed an issue, do meet with your boss. However, come prepared to discuss possible solutions. Dig for data: Has volume increased with the same resources; has the deployment of new systems caused some implementation overload? Are other people underperforming? Are systems not working? Could the company handle manual work differently? Are there processes that staff can change or re-engineer?”

Ask for a performance review

An anonymous reader from San Diego says to assure him that you feel comfortable speaking directly about any issues you have. “Don’t let long hours and low pay turn into ‘the elephant in the living room.’ Tell the boss you don’t mind ‘paying your dues’ to advance in the organization, but you would like to have a definite career path. Schedule a time when you can discuss it, without waiting for the traditional annual performance review — especially, if that review will be months and months down the road.”

Alternatively, an anonymous CFO recommends working within the normal performance review timeframe. “If you do have issues to bring up during your review, be sure to have backup documentation handy that shows your accomplishments, how you add value to the organization and how much time you average on the job.”

A final note

As readers have pointed out, a heartfelt apology goes a long way in restoring a relationship in trouble, whether it involves the boss, a co-worker or your spouse. In most cases, the courage to say “I’m sorry” will lead to open communication and a more positive outcome than you might expect.

This blog originally appeared in APEX Expert Blog on December 14, 2011. Reprinted with permission.


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