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Friday, September 11, 2009

how can I get justice with my boss' boss?

A reader writes:

I work for a software company in their customer/technical support department. One of our customers was not happy with the way I handled an issue and contacted their account executive to complain. What the customer said was to the effect that she did not want me working on any of her future support issues (the customer was angry because a phone message I took for someone else wasn't returned, and that I didn't do enough to ensure it be returned, despite sending that person an email).

The account executive emailed the director of my department indicating that customers were becoming unhappy with the way my department was handling customer issues. Her email included the comment that a customer specifically did not want me working on her issues anymore. Rather than speak with me about this problem or compose an email to alert our whole team that our customers were unhappy with our performance, my department director proceeded to forward this email to my entire department, plus a few employees outside of our department (about 50 people total).

After getting this email, I was shocked, embarrassed, and angered. I couldn't believe that I would be singled out like this. I walked over to my department director to find out what was going on. I asked what I had been doing wrong (the email singled me out but there were few specifics about what I had/hadn't done) and what I could do to improve. He looked at the email he sent out, and realized THAT HE HADN'T EVEN READ THE WHOLE THING BEFORE FORWARDING IT. He had no idea that my name was in the last paragraph of the email he just sent to every single one of my coworkers. He apologized with "Dude, I'm sorry, my bad" and kind of shook his head at himself. I then stumbled for words and said something like, "well I'll talk to the account executive to see what I can do to improve" and I went back to my desk. I spoke with the account executive right afterward and asked what had happened and she still seemed a bit angry with me and my whole department.

My immediate supervisor (team lead, not the dept. director) then came to me and apologized. He told me how I hadn't really been in the wrong and we discussed what our team could do to improve our processes and eliminate these types of complaints, which we get often and are trying to fix. He apologized again after the exchange.

Although my immediate supervisor handled it really well and he understood that I was probably very angry and embarrassed, I am still angry at the department director. I can't believe that he could be so careless as to possibly cause irreparable damage to my reputation and future at the company with one keystroke. I am also angry that the account executive took the customer's word at face value and then contacted the department director with a specific complaint about me without ever asking me what really happened.

What should I do? My first inclination is to arrange a meeting with the account executive and my department director so that I can tell them that I don't think this isn't the best way to handle situations like this. Should I ask for my department director and/or the account executive to send out a mass apology? Should I get their supervisors involved? I don't feel like I stood up for myself properly and that I didn't receive proper justice.

"Proper justice" is a weird concept to use here. This isn't a jury trial, it's a group of humans who make mistakes sometimes and hopefully do their best to fix them.

Your supervisor has made it clear he knows you weren't at fault, and the director apologized to you, so he apparently does too.

You work in a group that deals with customer support, so they're all well aware that customers tend to blame whoever they're talking to for whatever problem they're having, regardless of whether that person has anything to do with it or not. If they deal with customer relations, they've been on the receiving end of plenty of complaints from disgruntled customers themselves. I really doubt anyone is thinking much of the one that went to you.

However, if you want to set the record straight to your group, send out a follow-up email and say, "By the way, I wouldn't want anyone to think I don't take complaints seriously, but as (director's name) and (manager's name) now know, in this case the customer was upset because of something unrelated to my interactions with her."

That's it. Done.

If you insist on having a formal meeting about this or go to your director's boss to complain, you might get another apology, but you'll do far more harm to your reputation, by coming across as naive and high-maintenance. Learn to safeguard your reputation on your own (such as with the email I suggested above, if you think it's necessary); don't become known as a pain in the ass.

And yes, I know you're thinking of this in terms of "justice." But if you want everything in the work world to be perfectly just, you are going to be angry and disappointed over and over again.

If it becomes a pattern, address the pattern. But otherwise? This is your boss' boss. He made a mistake. Let it go.


Rachel - former HR blogger said...

Count to 10 and walk away. Two people acted in haste and it turned out badly. You want to do the same. In the grand scheme this really doesn't matter. It's hard to let go but in this situation you really need to move on.

Gabriel Conroy said...

I had a situation at one job where I was singled out in front of everyone in my department for making a mistake that I hadn't even made. It was another co-worker who made the mistake. This was clear in the context and I could have pointed it out right then and there. I did not and I'm glad of it because, in that situation at least, doing so would not have helped anyone other than to embarrass the other co-workers.

Obviously, the situation described in this post is different. But I'd recommend against writing an email, such as "Ask A Manager" suggested. Emails, no matter how carefully written, can often sound wrong, and in this situation might do more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of everyone makes mistakes, I don't agree with the advice given.

This mistake was far reaching and called the OP's reputation/performance into question. Peers that relied on the OP may think twice. The content of this fast forwarded email will linger in the back of people's minds -right or wrong.

Although a 1-1 apology is good form, it's the minimum and resolves nothing with the other recipients.

Prediction: This employer will lose the OP if they don't address the content of the hastily sent email with the group. It's easy enough to do > call a policy review staff meeting, clarify the reason behind the email and address both the OP's and performance issue at one time. This may take all of 5-15 minutes.

If not addressed with the group the bosses just set this employee up to fail. And it may be time for the OP to look for another job where the management team does more than the minimum.
Just sayin...

Anonymous said...

Maybe the account executive didn't listen to the poster's side of the story because, as they said, their department gets these complaints often. Best thing the poster can do in the future is document how he/she handles these complaints, since this seems to be an ongoing problem.

R.B. said...

Is it too much to ask that the person who sent this email send a retraction to the staff who got the mass email? Not an apology (that would be asking a bit much), but a clarification?

The Engineer said...

I wouldn't send the email either. I might ask the responsible party to issue a retraction/explanation, but doing on your own looks like you are correcting a supervisor two levels above you. Never good even if you are right. No muttering about the injustice with your coworkers either. Just suck it up and move on.

Which is advice I need to take myself given an incident last week.

Charles said...

"If it becomes a pattern, address the pattern. But otherwise? This is your boss' boss. He made a mistake. Let it go."

That last sentence is the advice I would follow.

While, I agree that some of the other suggestions here in the comments would be ideal - the boss should call a meeting to clarify, there should be an apology email sent out, etc. These, however, are not in the OP's power to do.

Other than "just letting go of it," anything else the OP tries to do will damage more than a reputation.

Even if sending out an email from the OP saying that the mistake wasn't really his/hers alone, the email will come across as complaining. Has no one is that dept. ever made a mistake? Has the OP never made a mistake?

If the OP, or anyone for that matter, really has a reputation that can be easily "damaged" by ONE email; then, maybe, it wasn't a very solid reputation in the first place. A solid reputation will usually survive intact, even if the mistake is valid.

It is true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease; But, it is even more true that the clunking cog gets replaced.

Anonymous said...

Hey AAM and everyone on the comment board. I am the contributor of this question and I wanted to thank everyone for their contribution. My department director did publicly apologize to everyone in our weekly meeting and said I didn't really do anything wrong and that he screwed up by forwarding that email before reading it. I appreciated this very much. However, this does seem like a red flag to me since it was so carelessly done. It also seemed weird that he prefaced his speech with, "I don't really have to apologize, but I want to".

Anonymous said...

"However, this does seem like a red flag to me since it was so carelessly done. It also seemed weird that he prefaced his speech with, "I don't really have to apologize, but I want to".

jmho Now you're acting like a baby. You received a 1-1 apology + a public apology. YOU need to get past this because there's nothing else that could or should be done.