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Anon is a big sillyhead. OH HI ANON, I'M SORRY, LET'S MEET NEXT WEEK TO REHASH YOUR HUMILIATION IN PERSON.
February 6, 2012 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Work colleague accidentally cc'd me an email containing personal insults directed at me and now wants to meet to discuss the issue. How do I diplomatically and professionally say that I don't want to meet and would rather just ignore the email and keep working?

Colleague (who is superior in the company, but not MY superior, not in my department, not someone I have interacted with in my previous 3 years with the company until this week, and not someone I'm likely to interact with again) accidentally cc'd me on an email containing personal insults of me. They followed up with an immediate apology for the accidental "reply all," an excuse of being frustrated about other things and taking it out on me, and an invitation to meet sometime next week to talk about it. My supervisor, who was the only other person in the email chain, replied and asked to be included in the meeting, and then emailed me directly to make sure I was ok and to offer to come to the meeting to support me. So yay, supervisor supports me and is reaching out. (But boo, supervisor thinks I'm such a sop that I need a personal email asking if I'm ok.)

The problem? I don't want to have this meeting. Since this is someone I will probably rarely, if ever, interact with in the future, what does it matter if they don't like me? I can see nothing good happening, and only possible downsides - I get upset/cry (which I did when I saw the email and I DEFINITELY don't want to do in front of work people), I say something that makes it worse, I give these people a poor impression of me, things escalate and become a bigger issue than they need to be for one stupid missent email, I get fired, and so on with the catastrophizing, irrational, and anxiety-provoking thoughts. I'm ready to just ignore this whole thing and keep working.

My question? How do I reply to this email? What do I say? What language do I use? For background: I am a young (female, quiet, timid) employee, hired at this company fresh out of college, and this is the first time I've encountered this situation. Everyone else is older, more experienced, and appears confident and put together. I don't want to come across as young, unprofessional, and emotional. I have no models for how to diplomatically shut down an attempt to apologize/escalate. In my ideal world, I would say X in a confident and polished tone that would artfully demonstrate how professional and unaffected I am. So what is X?

Anon on the off chance that someone at work sees this and then has access to my metafilter history. Throwaway email is: coolcalmprofessional@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (61 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Talk to the boss. This shit is unacceptable and no one should be made to feel personally insulted by material in professional correspondence.

Trust me, this will simmer if you don't throw the pot in their face. They need to be called out. They are a bully.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 10:27 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would say: "Look, I'm not bothered by it, everyone gets upset from time to time. If you sincerely have an issue with my performance, please take it up with my supervisor. " And tell your supervisor that you don't need/want this meeting.
posted by empath at 10:28 AM on February 6, 2012 [58 favorites]


Your Colleague is trying to save face and appear contrite so this doesn't reflect poorly on him/her. And/or Colleague wants you to really understand that Colleague does not actually dislike you personally. It's pretty unprofessional of Colleague overall, but I do doubt it's actually personal.

You should decline the meeting and say:

"Thank you for offering to meet. I understand that sometimes tempers can run high during a frustrating project and I did not take it personally. I do not need to meet in person to discuss and I'd rather move forward and put this behind us."
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:28 AM on February 6, 2012 [51 favorites]


Your boss is being supportive, so why not just go to her and say you'd prefer to just accept the apology you've received already via email and don't feel the meeting would be valuable. See what she says. If she wants you to go, though, you need to go.
posted by hazyjane at 10:28 AM on February 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


X is exactly what you stated you won't do, and wouldn't be able to do: show up to the meeting, act cordial, and conclude professionally; you have no real reason to forgive this person, but you should, because letting them save face is what you do as the bigger man(pardon the gendered phrase). It's going to be very hard to paint your avoidance as mature when even you know it isn't. Go get 'em.
posted by MangyCarface at 10:28 AM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


My grandfather had a saying: The more you stir up shit the more it stinks. Although I don't recommend such blunt language in your email, that is basically the stance I would take.

To the offender, with your supervisor CC'ed:
"Thank you for your concern. If you are apologizing for your unprofessional comments about me, I accept your apology and trust that such comments will not be made again, whether you accidentally copy them to me or not.

I see no reason for a meeting to discuss the matter any further, and see no benefit to anyone coming from such a meeting. If there are any issues my supervisor wishes to discuss with me, I am, as always, happy to meet with him/her."
posted by The Deej at 10:28 AM on February 6, 2012 [51 favorites]


Dear [Insulter]--thanks for the apology. I understand the frustrations that come with the job and recognize that they can lead us to say things we don't mean--we've all been there. I don't think there's a need to meet in person to discuss--let's just move forward from here with a clean slate.

Best,

Coolcalm.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think that you have to go to this meeting, and do your best to be gracious and forgiving. This is a situation in which your efforts to be professional and gracious will pay dividends. You are not going for this work colleague, who has exposed him or herself as impolitic and careless. You are going for your immediate supervisor, and you are showing that you can take one for the team.
Sorry! Plan to give yourself a treat later in the day, and if you are a woman wear waterproof eye makeup!
posted by pickypicky at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's very unlikely that everyone else is not as "put together" as you may suspect. Especially if they haven't figured out the "reply to all" thing.

If it were me I'd respond with "A meeting won't be necessary. Thanks for the offer."

Keep it short. Don't apologize or make excuses for what they did. Let them you just don't care. You're more put together than that.
posted by bondcliff at 10:30 AM on February 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't think you should go - crying in the meeting is worse than declining the meeting.
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:31 AM on February 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would venture to guess that the meeting is so the offending party can apologize in person. I would ask your supervisor about protocol in your organization with this.

I like pickypicky's suggestion the best of all that have been presented. It shows a lot of maturity, grace and professionalism to accept an apology--and move on with your professional life. I think it's worth it to give the offender a chance to apologize; in the end, it reflects well on the highly professional ethos you have cultivated.
posted by FergieBelle at 10:31 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm with hazyjane on this. Also, do let your supervisor know that you think this meeting would be nothing but upsetting for you. (And it is not a negative comment on you that your supervisor wants to support you, btw.) It probably would be cleanest if your supervisor conveyed to everyone that this meeting would be counterproductive.

In your shoes, my basic communication to supervisor and, if necessary, in an email, is that of course you did not appreciate the comments made but you definitely do not feel it would be positive for you to have a meeting to discuss them or the email generally. I'd just add that you do accept the apology that was already made.
posted by bearwife at 10:34 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trust me, this will simmer if you don't throw the pot in their face.

I dunno. I once accidentally IM'd a half-cocked tirade about another employee to that employee. She took it in stride after I apologized and then explained why she had done it the way she had. We weren't exactly cool after that, but it didn't end up being a huge deal. I wasn't trying to bully her, I was just frustrated and (attempting to) vent at a co-worker I was friendly with.

If she had escalated, it could have been a huge deal for both of us, though. Because while I understood why she had done things the way she had and wasn't that upset about it, she had still fucked up the order and I could have made it a big deal if she decided to push things. You don't want to make it a 'him or me' situation when he outranks you.

Unless he's making a pattern of it, just do what you can to de-escalate the situation, and maybe just have a 'friendly' chit-chat about it at the next company picnic or something.
posted by empath at 10:34 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Without knowing anything about the culture of your office/official policies: I'm not sure if there's any way to not meet this colleague and not look immature. Put on your big girl/big boy pants and just do it. Don't cry, obviously. You can leverage this, not in a weird Machiavellian fashion, but if you can hold it together through a meeting, you'll make a good impression on someone who is not your direct superior now but it probably a good person to know.

If you don't go, it might make you look a bit petty. Be gracious, accept the offer to meet, keep it short and professional, and give yourself a pep talk: "I'm not going to cry. I'm not going to say anything weird. I'm an adult and I CAN DO THIS!"
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:35 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think I would go to my supervisor, say that I didn't feel the need for a meeting, ask him or her if s/he felt differently and then do what my supervisor wants.
posted by Maisie at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think you should try to meet them, if at all possible. Keep in mind that the colleague is the only one who looks bad here, by sending a really unprofessional email, and that you will come out of it all looking even better than before. Show your supervisor how calm , cool and collected you are by graciously accepting an apology in person and then letting it roll off your back. It's hard, I know, but it will be great experience!
posted by smilingtiger at 10:40 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you could honestly go either way. If you do end up having a meeting with your supervisor and colleague, I would recommend the following (some of which may be obvious and mentioned previously, others not so much):

* Since your supervisor was already included on the e-mail, your supervisor/manager must be present at the meeting.
* Understand the agenda of the meeting so you don't get blindsided. If it is a short meeting simply to apologize, that's fine. If the intent of the meeting is to apologize for the insults plus go over what your co-workers issue with you regarding something work-related, then you should be prepared to clarify and/or defend your actions and decision-making process.

If it's there is the chance of the latter, I would discuss it and be transparent with your boss before-hand so he doesn't end up hearing something entirely new in meeting even if it is without merit.
posted by seppyk at 10:41 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you know there is a good possibility you will cry, Do Not agree to an in-person meeting. Women who cry in a corporate setting get typecast very quickly, and it may hinder future growth or how you're viewed.

Stick to a written/email method which avoids such a pitfall.

Do not take any of this personally.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:44 AM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just asked my sister who is an HR manager at a large firm and who handles stuff like this every day of her life. She says: I would never make someone meet if they don’t want to. It should be her choice. She should meet separately with her supervisor but shouldn’t have to meet with the person who emailed her.

Her feeling is that absolutely no one would think ill of you for not attending this meeting.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:45 AM on February 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


I agree with hazyjane. Your supervisor may tell you it's necessary to go to the meeting, though. If you go, and you don't keep your cool perfectly, I don't think it's going to hurt you that much. It's the person who sent the email who looks bad. I'm not saying you should turn on the waterworks to make them feel extra bad, but if you look upset, hey, you didn't create the situation. If you go, just figure that you are doing them a favor.
posted by BibiRose at 10:48 AM on February 6, 2012


This may be emotionally difficult to do, but maybe you can use this as an opportunity? It sounds like your colleague wants to make up for their bad behavior. If you let them, you may be able to form a relationship that could help you professionally.

Once a colleague who was high up in the organization accidentally walked in on me while I was pumping. Later, after she apologized and I said it was no big deal, she told me that the same thing had happened to her years ago. We ended up having lunch together and had a work relationship after that that we never would have had if not for this embarrassing incident.

Your situation is harder because this person intentionally insulted you (even though they didn't intend to get caught). But it's similar because they embarrassed themselves at your expense, and now it looks like they want to meet with you personally. If you can manage to be calm and confident (practice at home with a friend until you don't cry!), and say not only that you understand and don't hold it against them, but also that you'd appreciate any feedback they have and look forward to working together to improve the project, you may come out of this looking more professional and also having an ally who owes you a favor.

One more thing -- have you never thought something bad about someone and ended up having a good opinion of them later? I certainly have. It may help you deal with feeling humiliated if you remember a time when you've done the same thing, minus the reply-all.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:49 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I agree with chickenmagazine. I think the degree to which you want to resist this meeting is maybe the exact amount of confidence-building you could use at this time. Also, you never know what will come out of it -- including growth opportunities, professional development, career pathing. 2 superiors want you to go? Muscle up and go.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:55 AM on February 6, 2012


This happened recently at my workplace, but with the roles reversed. An rank-and-file staffer was included in an email in which a manager was passing the buck (which he is known for) and she hit reply-all instead of reply after typing "WTF?!" She is lucky to still have her job. I like her personally but that was incredibly unprofessional. The person who sent you that email was behaving incredibly unprofessionally too. Even without hitting reply-all, *personal* attacks are gossipy and don't belong at work (especially among management), and most certainly don't belong in written communication.

The most professional thing you can do is not hold the meeting at all, because the nature of the offense was *personal,* not professional. This person is trying to save face, not improve a working relationship. empath's response is short and to the point without being passive-aggressive or emotional. Something along those lines is perfect as it keeps you, personally, out of it. (Please don't say anything like "oh, you want to apologize for your unprofessional behavior? Ok.")

Short and sweet: "I accept your apology and don't see a need to discuss it further. If you have any concerns about my performance, please discuss them with my supervisor. "

Copy your supervisor and move on. People who would criticize you personally, in writing, at work, when they're in a position of power over you, are not worth any more than the most basic professional courtesy.
posted by headnsouth at 11:01 AM on February 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


Well, you didn't include the details of what they said in the email, so although everyone up top has good points, difficult to say how to respond.

But, meeting with them, as people have said is the right way to go. However - from your post, it seems you're not good at confrontation. Also, you have this perception that everyone is "older, more experienced, more put together" etc etc..

Your boss is supporting you not because you're a sop, but because it's their job. Many bosses would avoid it or not take your side. Also, they probably know you and your personality, and is sensitive to that. So again, good boss.

It's going to be an apology meeting. Go in without being defensive or scared.

But again, I don't know the content.. were the insults related to you not being more take-charge or proactive? While insulting emails are wrong, it's something to listen to and figure out how you can better avoid that perception of you.

chickenmagazine's tact of saying you understand/don't hold it against them is good. Also, they should come to you with anything that they think is an issue before going off the deep end.

This is going to happen again, so you need to learn how to deal with it. Not that it's right or should happen, but we are dealing with people, so, well, that.
posted by rich at 11:02 AM on February 6, 2012


I would first email your boss (or say in person, however you usually communicate): "I really appreciate you supporting me about this, but I don't feel a whole meeting is required here. I'd much prefer to simply accept Colleague's apology and just move on, if that's alright with you." And assuming it is alright, I'd email Colleague and say: "Thanks for the apology, I'm sure you didn't intend for me to read that comment. I'm happy to move on and put this little incident behind us, so there's no need for a meeting. Take care."

I also have to say, I don't think this will lead to the chain of disaster you imagine. But, as an impartial and usually disgusted witness to a loooot of office politics (i.e., a frequent temp) it sounds like Colleague is freaking out because you have the upper hand right now. Colleague may be well aware that in a meeting, you would be inexperienced and possibly weak, and that through excessive apologizing (thereby getting you to be all nice to Colleague in return) Colleague could then reassert him/herself over you and make you feel even weaker.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:19 AM on February 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Best thing to do is to go, be professional, be the bigger person, etc.

But if you think you're going to cry, the second-best thing to do is to not meet. Seriously. You do not want to cry at work.

Also, I'd recommend getting over the shy/timid thing quick. It doesn't serve anyone well in the workplace. Therapy helped me.
posted by downing street memo at 11:21 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why does it have to be a meeting? Can you just swing by the perpetrator's office, pop your head in (leaning on the doorframe for support) and say something like, "Hey, thanks for your email apology. I appreciate your offer of getting together, but we don't have to make a big deal out of this; it's water under the bridge. Just so you know, I'm going to let my supervisor know that everything's fine. Then walk on. When you get back, e-mail the supervisor that you and the perp worked it out, copy to the perp.

You described the insults as personal, but is there any kernel of useful input about your office persona or work quality (not intended to offend, but you are young and it takes years to navigate corporate culture)? If so, you could add a sentence in there like, I realize you were lashing out because you're frustrated about project x, but [useful tidbit or underlying message] gave me something to chew on."
posted by carmicha at 11:22 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel like this one needs ammunition that is more casual and confidant than the formal brush-offs presented here. I would write something like:

"No big deal about the email, no need to meet -- I didn't take it personally. Thanks for apologizing, though.

How about that game yesterday? Go Giants!"

Or something.

Key here: portray to them that you do not care about whatever was written, because you are confidant and strong and you don't care what other people think of you.

Oh, and I would so totally never go to that meeting. Going to the meeting makes it appear as though you require the apology. The key here is that you don't, because remember, you don't care what people say or think about you because you are confidant and strong.
posted by incessant at 11:25 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


So yay, supervisor supports me and is reaching out. (But boo, supervisor thinks I'm such a sop that I need a personal email asking if I'm ok.)

You are not a sop, and I would bet that your supervisor doesn't think so. Your supervisor should have checked with you, at minimum by email. That's both being a good person and being a good supervisor.

I'm not sure you're going to get out of this meeting, so if you have to go, this AskMe about crying at work is a good one.
posted by gladly at 11:29 AM on February 6, 2012


Boy, I sympathize with the person feeling like crap and wanting to meet with you, and I'm glad your boss wants to have your back if you need it -- doesn't mean you're a sop! Goodness. Non-sops benefit from support, too. (I hope.)

At the same time, I would not want this meeting, for the same reasons you don't, including crying. (Although I also think it's important not to develop too much of a complex about crying at work. You want to avoid it as much as you can, but it is a normal human emotional response, and some people are more prone to it than others.)

I'd go with the note to the boss that says, "Thank you so much for wanting to help. I actually feel like a formal meeting will just make everything more awkward, and honestly, I'm just anxious to put it behind me. If it's okay with you, I'm going to decline [person's] offer to meet. If I change my mind, we can always have a chat later."

I think you need to try not to over-manage your reactions and other people's reactions to those reactions, if you know what I mean. Tell your boss the truth -- the meeting sounds like it will make everything worse; you genuinely would prefer to move on. In all likelihood, the person who sent it feels terrible and is also scared to death of getting in trouble (it sounds like your supervisor was the intended recipient of this supervisor-to-supervisor trash talk about you, which is curious and may have your own supervisor nervous), and the furthest thing from anybody's mind is being mad at you, so don't work too hard.

They probably both want desperately for this to go away and will be pleased as punch that you do, too.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:46 AM on February 6, 2012


Meetings are to flesh out or explore ideas. There's nothing to explore here -- your coworker did something unprofessional, it hurt your feelings, he recognized that it was unprofessional and likely hurt your feelings and apologized. Your supervisor knows the situation.

What's he going to do? Haul out a Powerpoint?

Pick the classiest suggestion above for how to say Thanks But No Thanks and forget it as best you can.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:50 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Short and sweet - absolutely, but I would not use language like "I didn't take it personally".

"I don't see a need for a meeting about this but I do appreciate the apology. In the future should you have issues with my performance I trust you'll approach me directly or seek out my supervisor with constructive feedback."
posted by FlamingBore at 12:10 PM on February 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


Realistically, the person you need to impress here is your supervisor. If s/he thinks a meeting would be productive, s/he'll be glad you handled yourself professionally and made the best a difficult situation. If s/he agrees with you that a meeting is unnecessary, s/he'll be glad you took the initiative to suggest moving on. But you can't know that till you talk to your supervisor - making the wrong choice here by sending the email without that discussion could be counterproductive if the supervisor thinks a meeting would be useful.
posted by judith at 12:36 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I won't settle for anything less than a bottle of scotch. The Macallan, if you're really feeling contrite. Honestly, it's not a big deal and let's not turn it into one. Hopefully I'll have a chance to show you my better side at some point soon.

-Anon
posted by R. Schlock at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


They do not have any right to compel you to attend a meeting when you are the wronged party and they are not even in any position of authority over you. You tell them in no uncertain terms that for your own reasons you choose not to prolong this unfortunate incident, and that you have received an apology and wish to move on. Also, explain that this is your preference to your supervisor.

If the insulter tries to push the situation after that it will be bullying, and you should make it an HR issue.
posted by Decani at 12:41 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering why everyone seems sure that this meeting is truly for the purposes of an apology. That just doesn't make sense. Isn't it very likely that the coworker is feeling guilty, but instead of graciously acknowledging their fault in being completely unprofessional, will try to remediate the email by doing what they should have done first and essentially lecturing OP about their faults? I'm thinking that's exactly what this meeting is being planned for- 2 seconds of "oh, I approached this the wrong way with the email, BUT I was essentially right to complain because...*insert even longer list of OPs faults with new complaints thrown in in more detail.* I dunno, maybe I've seen too much of that kind of thing to expect that to be how someone in a position of authority would react psychologically to guilt... Acknowledge their fault but then deflect it with a mountain of current problems that are your fault, while retroactively justifying their complaint. I suspect this is not really an apology but an ambush.
posted by stockpuppet at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2012 [27 favorites]


Send HR in your place, or loop them in on this conversation. Tell them that coworker wants to talk about ways to avoid creating a hostile work environment in the future.

You've done nothing wrong, it's completely your coworkers problem, and in some places he would be extremely fireable right now.
posted by rhizome at 12:49 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meetings are to flesh out or explore ideas. There's nothing to explore here -- your coworker did something unprofessional, it hurt your feelings, he recognized that it was unprofessional and likely hurt your feelings and apologized. Your supervisor knows the situation.

In my experience, in cubicle companies, it's to provide a face-to-face apology in private without anybody overhearing. It may also be to upbraid you further (a classic face-saving maneuver on offenders' parts), but I think they want to simply apologize like a human without having to appear publicly to have ever made a mistake.
posted by rhizome at 12:52 PM on February 6, 2012


You are playing with a bit of fire if you just brush this off. Big companies have HR professionals for a reason, so you'd best cover your own rear by understanding exactly what HR policies you are beholden to when in a situation like you've described. Your manager should take the lead on this, with HR in support.

If it's nothing, than at mimimum you have written record of the issue, and knowledge that the company knows of their business leader's communication incompetence.

HR is not all big meanies. Use them to your advantage to maintain a comfortable workplace.
posted by lstanley at 1:03 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering why everyone seems sure that this meeting is truly for the purposes of an apology. That just doesn't make sense. Isn't it very likely that the coworker is feeling guilty, but instead of graciously acknowledging their fault in being completely unprofessional, will try to remediate the email by doing what they should have done first and essentially lecturing OP about their faults? I'm thinking that's exactly what this meeting is being planned for- 2 seconds of "oh, I approached this the wrong way with the email, BUT I was essentially right to complain because...*insert even longer list of OPs faults with new complaints thrown in in more detail.* I dunno, maybe I've seen too much of that kind of thing to expect that to be how someone in a position of authority would react psychologically to guilt... Acknowledge their fault but then deflect it with a mountain of current problems that are your fault, while retroactively justifying their complaint. I suspect this is not really an apology but an ambush.
posted by stockpuppet at 3:44 PM on February 6 [2 favorites +] [!]



That certainly could be the case, but if so, I think the offending party probably would have included something in the apology email along the lines of, "I apologize for having handled this poorly. The issues I see are [X, Y and Z]." Instead, the offender said that s/he was frustrated about other things and taking it out on Anon, with a copy to Anon's supervisor. To me that suggests that the purpose of the meeting is for the offender to apologize in person. The offender obviously knows how out of line s/he was and given that no reporting relationship exists between the offender and Anon, I doubt the offender wants to go over the line again.
posted by Maisie at 1:07 PM on February 6, 2012


If the insults were strictly personal: Colleague is offering the most ceremonial form of apology available, because offering an emailed apology might be seen as not taking it that seriously. Even if the OP and supervisor were only other two on the email, Colleague could certainly relate their honest version of events to anyone else with a vested interest. (e.g., "I offered to meet OP and her boss in person...")

Colleague may have made the insults flippantly, but Colleague is also sorry Colleague hit Reply All. You can't absolve Colleague from that particular mistake, nor do I think you should have to try. Assuming there are no HR policies in place for this sort of thing, your public response to the incident drives everyone else's bus on how it should be handled. I vote for email a la empath, all the way.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:08 PM on February 6, 2012


So this person was complaining about you to your supervisor? If anything, I would have a meeting with my supervisor to see what he/she thought of the complaints. "Does X have a valid point? Do you think I need to improve my performance here?" This could be a learning opportunity for you.

Agree with everyone else who says you're not obligated to attend the meeting & could e-mail a polite decline. I think the person is just offering to meet with you out of politeness. They probably want to have the meeting as much as you do.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:09 PM on February 6, 2012


My answer assumes that your colleague wasn't writing about performance issues that your boss may think you actually need to correct.

I think you feel like your boss thinks you're a sop because *you* think you're a sop to have perfectly normal and human feelings about someone trying to insult you behind your back.

"Professional" doesn't have to equal "pretending to be completely unaffected." There's a middle ground between crying/carrying on and icily brushing off your colleague's attempt to apologize, and I think you'll come off best if you can find that ground.

Assuming your boss is on board with no meeting, you should accept the apology graciously, either in a short email or by quickly "popping over," as in carmicha's suggestion. Your goal is to imply both 1) that you are taking the apology as sincere, and 2) that you believe the apology is warranted. I like some of the email drafts above, except I wouldn't say "I didn't take it personally" or "I'm sure you didn't mean for me to read that." These comments partially excuse the insult. You're accepting the apology, not pretending there's no need for one. Really, a simple "I appreciate the apology" is fine.

I don't understand the suggestions to say "If you have an issue with my performance, you should talk to my supervisor." First of all, wouldn't you prefer to hear (constructive) criticism directly, before your boss was involved? Secondly, your colleague already knows they behaved unprofessionally, so at this point, there's no need to rub it in by telling them how to be more professional.
posted by Mila at 1:09 PM on February 6, 2012


I would definitely talk to your boss first, because I have been at enough of these things to know that the insulter may at least try to re-frame these things as objective observations. And, who knows, some of them may be true. And I have also seen other people invited to these things who were not expected to be there.
So, collaborate with your boss to:
a) decide if there should be a meeting;
b) prepare for what might be thrown on the table;
c) decide who will be there (that should be stated by your boss once you've agreed, and if the meeting's going to happen, should preferably be no more than three people: you, your boss and the other guy);
posted by blue_wardrobe at 1:23 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


FWIW, you should know that your tearful embarrassment was matched on the other side by a "Oh fuck. Oh FUCK. OH FUCKITY FUCK FUCK nnnooooOOOOOO" on the sender's side, complete with overwhelming nausea, flushing and breaking out in a literal cold sweat. And that was my reaction when I just *thought* I'd hit reply instead of forward on a mail to which I had added a snarky comment on top.

The best thing you can do is deliver the most professional reply you can contrive that in no way makes you look like a victim. I like Admiral Haddock's reply the best. That reply might well earn you the respect of someone who is, in fact, being a complete dick.

Then tell your supervisor "I am satisfied with this situation as it now stands. If you feel the need to follow up with Dick Wad, please do what you think best regarding a meeting between the two of you."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:02 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look, the "personal insults" may have been unwarranted and out of bounds and unprofessional as the OP said, but their might have some kernel of truth that the OP could work on, that she could benefit from! The meeting could result in the OP being asked to step up more, offered training, opportunities. Who knows, maybe it'll be "Hey, go take this course, it will help with your presentation skills." I am often on the other side of the desk, and I've had that meeting numerous times.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:11 PM on February 6, 2012


45 answers and no mention yet of a lawsuit? The insulter may be needing to get your assurances/signature that you won't sue them/her/him. Doesn't sound like you want to go there, but it might be a good exercise to spend 20 mins thinking thru what that'd mean. Maybe even visit a lawyer for a free initial consult. Backing down from that ledge a bit, imagine showing up at a meeting with an attorney. And backing down further still, what if you agreed to a meeting, but
only if the insulter's boss was present (and peer manager in your org).

If they ask you to sign anything, decline. Say you need time to think about it, or you need to run it by your attorney.

Again, doesn't sound like you want to go there, want to just put it behind you, but it might help your career to be more aware of the legal climate, and know that you may hold more power than you realize.
posted by at at 2:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a part of me that wants to suggest if the colleague sent a reply all email defaming/insulting you, this person should also have to send a public email apology to the same people retracting the comment. After all, they're still left with whatever was said about you in their heads as an impression of you. Thanks to your colleague. In fact, I think he should have sent that immediately on realizing the error. I don't think there's a way of asking for this without escalating things, but it would be the classy thing for colleague to do.
posted by Jubey at 2:19 PM on February 6, 2012


Whoops, I think I've misread. Your supervisor was the only other person emailed and already knows. As you were...
posted by Jubey at 2:21 PM on February 6, 2012


I would refer the whole thing to HR, and let them come up with a reconciliation solution.
posted by scruss at 2:31 PM on February 6, 2012


If you do end up going to the meeting, make sure you take your supervisor up on their offer and have a third party in the room.

I would talk to your supervisor and tell them that you consider this resolved, and would prefer any futher discussion on the issue in writing.
posted by spaltavian at 2:38 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe even visit a lawyer for a free initial consult.

I got the impression that Anon wants the whole thing to be over so that Anon can chalk it up to a bad day and get back to work, and mostly wants to avoid having a bunch of stressful meetings about it. This seems to move in the opposite direction, no?
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:57 PM on February 6, 2012


Taking an apology from a non-supervisory superior is hard.

Had a similar situation about a year ago, with the guy who had hired me before he was transferred to a different department.

He came over to our department and yelled at me and a co-worker for problems that his team had (unbeknownst to him) caused.

He ended up inviting us out for a beer and, while I didn't really want to go, I wanted to let him have his apology. Have some sort of canned acceptance that lets him off. I think I used "no blood, no foul" and drank the beer he bought me.

I don't know if that would work for you and your corporate culture, but I doubt he remembers it.

I'd rather be known as an employee who can deal with difficult superiors without making a fuss. That's an intangible that doesn't show up on any review but helps in corporate jobs.
posted by Mad_Carew at 2:59 PM on February 6, 2012


OP, there have been some good comments in this thread. I would submit to you that this is not a human relations question, but is 100% a work issue. I agree that the handling of this issue by the offender has been peculiar, and the face-to-face meeting idea could equally feasibly be either an awkward attempt at an in-person apology or an ambush throwing your perceived faults on the table for discussion by not only this person but also your supervisor.

Let's be clear--you are the disadvantaged party in this equation. Your job is at stake. Before you say anything else to this person, your own supervisor, or your company's HR department, I strongly encourage you to speak to an attorney specializing in labor law. I assure you that, even though HR is not composed solely of Sith or other evildoers, they are paid to represent the best interest of your employer, not you. If you value your job in this situation, you need advice from an expert who is being paid to represent YOUR best interest and advise you accordingly. You don't need to tell anyone you're speaking to a lawyer. It doesn't need to be a big deal. But you do need to make contact with someone and get their advice about the most advantageous way for YOU to handle this situation while not taking more crap than you need to and also covering your own rear.
posted by anonnymoose at 3:09 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


P.S. As added clarification, I would under no circumstances go into this meeting without speaking to a lawyer first. Call in sick that day if you need to.
posted by anonnymoose at 3:10 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your supervisor may want this meeting because it's organizational policy. You might not be able to get out of it. But the best way to try is to tell your supervisor that it's cool and you don't feel the need for a meeting. Or, if you feel comfortable admitting "weakness" to your supervisor, tell your supervisor that you expect this meeting will make you uncomfortable and that you don't need a meeting.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:09 PM on February 6, 2012


I think there's little upside to attending the meeting, and a large potential downside: the possibility, as mentioned by others, that it could turn into a free-form assessment of your putative shortcomings. That outcome is bad because (1) you'll find it upsetting, as anyone would; (2) you won't have had a chance to prepare; and (3) it raises the possibility that your superiors are trying to document your (alleged) underperformance as preparation for disciplinary action.

So. I would begin by politely declining the meeting, saying something like "if your intent was to apologize, I accept; let's move on." rainydayfilms's and The Deej's templates above are good, though I'd think carefully before using the words "inappropriate" or "unprofessional" in an email to a colleague or superior. If your supervisor and/or Superior Fatfingers insist that the meeting needs to take place, take anonnymoose's advice and quietly seek representation.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 5:36 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whichever way you go (and I would personally talk to my boss first, then do what he/she preferred, since Colleague was trying to make a point about your work to your supervisor), save all the emails related to this. Save them off-site - email them to your personal account or save them to a thumbdrive or whatever.

Just in case.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:54 PM on February 6, 2012


Are you sure you're okay about this? I'd ask my supervisor to run interference, find out why the emailer said what she said, and get a written apology. If there's nasty gossip out there about you, you might want to know how to counteract it. You've already been insulted, you don't have to be coerced into meeting with the person who did the insulting. Office politics and game-playing suck; I'm sorry you're in this mess.
posted by theora55 at 6:54 PM on February 6, 2012


I wouldn't go. You THINK these people are all together and professional, but given what happened, I wouldn't count on it.

Understand the agenda of the meeting so you don't get blindsided. If it is a short meeting simply to apologize, that's fine. If the intent of the meeting is to apologize for the insults plus go over what your co-workers issue with you regarding something work-related, then you should be prepared to clarify and/or defend your actions and decision-making process.

This is crap and is tantamount to heaping harassment on top of insult. If there is a problem with your actions and decision making, then it should have NEVER EVER been brought to your attention with a crap email from out of your chain of command. Discipline actions and problems with your work should come through your direct supervisor, in a timely manner, and be discussed with you privately.

Politely decline this meeting. If your supervisor really has your back, they will understand your reasoning: You'd rather get on with your work, there's no problem, you'd prefer that it never happen again, but you understand people get stressed and things happen. Done. If your supervisor insists on this meeting, you can bet there's some agenda here that won't be beneficial to you.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:18 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm on the 'decline' side of the fence here, expressed as succinctly as headnsouth put it. I really don't see any upside -- and certainly don't see the proposed meeting as a opportunity for career development or personal growth -- but I'd also be mindful not to make life difficult for your own supervisor. That's the professional relationship that you want to build upon.

Ideally, your supervisor will be sympathetic, but may also be subject to policy, in which case it is up to said supervisor to make sure that the meeting happens entirely on your terms, that there are no surprises, and that you're the one who decides when it's done.
posted by holgate at 1:21 AM on February 7, 2012


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