What's your problem?

WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM? My boss asked me at a recent staff party what I thought of him. I was a bit drunk at the time and told him the unflattering truth, in very unvarnished terms.

by Jeremy Bullman
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I'm extremely embarrassed about the whole thing, and had hoped he would never mention it. Instead, he's lodged a formal complaint with our HR department. Is there anything I can do to make the best of such a bad situation? 

A: Oh dear. You've been not only unwise but unlucky. The vast majority of such majestic indiscretions go unpunished. Most of us, when on the receiving end of unflattering comment, summon up a protective mechanism that first shrugs it off and then deletes it completely. It's far too painful to live with and, anyway, it can't be true, can it? I mean, me?

But by sneaking off to the HR department, your boss has made such sensible conspiracy impossible - so your only hope is to make your own case.

You may be tempted to withdraw your opinion, claim to hold your boss in the highest respect and affection, blame it all on the demon drink, and apologise with as much grace and humility as you can dredge up. Please don't: you'll only add loss of self-respect to all your other miseries Instead, concede willingly that you'd had a drink but be quite emphatic on one point: it may have loosened your tongue but in no way did it affect your sentiments. Your boss asked you to tell him, absolutely truthfully, what you thought of him; and you told him. Your opinion then is your opinion now. Express contrition, but only for any embarrassment caused.

If your HR director has any sense of justice, she'll reproach you gently for your lack of tact, inwardly acknowledge that your boss, as the senior person, was the greater culprit of the two, and arrange for you to report to someone else as soon as possible.

It's a risk. I won't hold it against you if you choose not to take it.

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP. Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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