Mending bridges with a former supervisor?
March 28, 2009 12:12 AM   Subscribe

How can I mend a friendship with a former supervisor while embattled in a quasi-legal situation against our former company?

I recently filed a human rights complaint against a company I was previously employed with. I am no longer employed there, and my former supervisor is on sick leave and will likely not be returning to work there, but is still technically their employee. We became good friends while we worked together, and she would frequently invite me over to socialize, this continued even after my employment ended. My supervisor initially encouraged me to pursue my human rights complaint, however has always been concerned about how it would effect her, as she is the key witness for many of the allegations I am making. Once my employer received my complaint they met with my old supervisor, and in their response my supervisor is cited as denying many of the allegations I make against the company and many of the statements she made in various situations. When I called her and confronted her about this she stated I was taking her statements out of context or slightly misstated them. She then stated she was uncomfortable talking to me about the issue and that she was now "under a bus" with the company due to my complaint. I then sent her an angry email, which I regret - and in response she simply wrote that after much consideration she would ask at this time that I do not contact her, and that this decision was made for professional and personal reasons.

I have a lot of anger towards this person, who I once considered a friend. I feel she was very much playing both sides throughout the dispute, and has now taken the side of our former employer in an attempt to save her own a**. While I've definitely learned a lesson about not being friends with your supervisor, I am still sick and angry about this situation and the betrayal I feel. This is a short summary of what happened, but essentially I feel she repeatedly did things to gain my trust and then exploited that trust, all the while claiming to be acting in my best interests. I don't like her self-interest, but I don't think she is a horrible person and I'd like to try and find some closure with her. Do you think it would be okay to try and contact her (I haven't done so in the 6 weeks since she asked me not to)? Should I wait longer? Or should I completely respect her request and just leave it be, regardless of how angered I am and how unsettled things feel? This person was probably the greatest mentor I ever had, and this whole situation is really hard for me to cope with. I want to make this right, but I want to respect her wishes all the same. Any advice?
posted by Raynyn to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry you lost a friend, it's a tough situation. I think there's a couple things I would consider in your place. She's made a direct request that you not contact her and that's pretty unambiguous. It sounds like she's written you off and that's how she's coping with her situation. I'd be extremely cautious about making further contact before your legal action is resolved, especially when taking her previous actions into account. If your strongest motivation to contact her is to help you cope with what's happened, I think it'd be more productive for you to talk about it with friends, family, a therapist, anyone who might have a more sympathetic ear - and no involvement in the legal matter.
posted by empyrean at 12:27 AM on March 28, 2009

Um, I really, really don't see what needs closure here. This woman found you convenient while you worked for her, and now you're no longer useful to her and might harm her career, which is more important to her than you, your job, your career prospects, or your friendship with her. It's so much more important to her that she's basically given you orders to stay the hell away from her, and blames you for whatever's going on with her and the HR folks at your old job.

She might not be a horrible person, in the sense that, say, she's not Pol Pot or she's not eating puppies in front of the staff, but she's certainly a horrible person for you to be associating with in a personal and professional sense. She has no real investment in you except as someone who can make her look good, and once that was off the table due to your HR complaint, you ceased to matter.

Take the longer-term lesson, and don't provoke the not-so-nice lady by disregarding her edict about contact. She got you to get pissed off at her and now she has an excuse not only to distance herself from you, but to tell your colleagues that you're irrational and unprofessional. Run, far and fast, and don't engage further.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:31 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

You must respect her request not to contact her, at the very least until the legal action is resolved and you've worked through some of your anger. That is the closure. If you contact her, she could consider it harassing.

It sounds like you don't want to mend bridges at all, but get some of your anger out at her--you do say you still have a lot of anger, which is not the time for mending. Do you want to vent or mend?

When the legal issue is over, and you are feeling better about this, you might consider contacting her, first with an apology, and then asking if things might be mended. But I would suggest not doing this either, actually.

Not all ugly relationships and situations have closure, unfortunately. I think therapy can be a good way to deal with this sort of messiness and stress.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:16 AM on March 28, 2009

I'm going to take the opposite position on this one. Your former boss/workplace acquaintance is not acting two-faced or mean-spirited. Perhaps she didn't realize that by encouraging you to take your action, she would be forced to choose sides. Perhaps she knew that would happen and assumed you knew that too. Or perhaps she thought of you as an acquaintance or someone to mentor and not as a deep, personal friend. Blurring those lines is always risky, and you're just as much at fault as she is for doing so.

When someone distances herself from you, you'd do well to first think it through from her perspective. Here, she tells you why she wants that distance. Essentially you are asking her to risk her career and job for your benefit. To refuse to accept those perfectly reasons arguments is selfish on your part.

And then there's the legal angle. I assume you have an attorney. If you had run this by your attorney in advance, he/she would have strongly advised you not to contact anyone at your old corporation. They should be the last people you talk to, send e-mails to, or contact in any way. Now the corporation has a record of angry confrontation/s initiated by you, and a demand in writing from your old supervisor that you leave her alone. So without delay, you need to tell your attorney all of this. Without knowing the specifics or being an attorney myself, I don't know, but you could very well have done irreparable harm to your case.

What you've done so far conflates friendships with business and adversarial legal proceedings. It doesn't sound like you really know what you want out of a resolution of this complaint. Avenues other than the law, like therapy, are there for dealing with your feelings, and it's really important in terms of the money and time you're spending on this action that you stop conflating the two. What's more important to you: understanding why someone you considered a friend chose work due to pressure from her employer, honestly, a no-brainer, or pushing ahead with your complaint without sabotaging it further?

You need to get your priorities straight and decide how serious you are about going forward with this complaint.
posted by vincele at 4:53 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that, rather than "playing both sides", your supervisor didn't take sides at all, and you interpreted her neutral comments as supporting your own world view? I'm not implying that your world view is or isn't correct, just that she may always have been a bit caught in the middle and tried to balance by being supportive of you, personally, while not taking a position on your specific complaints.

Just something to think about. She was in a difficult position, especially if she really liked you but wasn't 100% sure about the facts at issue.

I'd wait. You may be friends with her later, you may not. In the meantime, try to treat everyone more fairly than they seem to treat you; it's easy to misinterpret people. Even if we do terrible things, we're still just little kids that get big and mean for some mysterious reason.
posted by amtho at 5:19 AM on March 28, 2009

Here are the salient points that I pulled from your post:

- the "supervisor is on sick leave"
- you're suing the company
- "she is the key witness for many of the allegations"
- she encouraged you to sue them
- in their response my supervisor is cited as denying many of the allegations I make against the company and many of the statements she made in various situations
- "I called her and confronted her"
- "I then sent her an angry email"
- "she would ask at this time that I do not contact her"

So it sounds like after you got the response from the company that you took their word on their interpretation of what your former supervisor said instead of trusting her and assuming that your former company was out to screw you.

Don't you have a lawyer? Aren't you getting advice from someone with legal training? I don't have any :) but it seems to me to be a really bad decision to call up your main witness and berate her based on "evidence" from your enemy.

Prior to you deciding to sue the company, did you and your supervisor talk to a lawyer? Did your lawyer take statements from your supervisor? Do you have any concrete evidence that the human rights violations occurred, or is your case totally contingent on your supervisor's testimony. If the latter, then you were doubly dumb to call and harass her and send her a nasty email.

It also seems to me, based on the fact that she's on sick leave and that you think she won't return to work, that she could be really worried about her income situation. If she has some medical condition where she won't be able to work, sure, there's unemployment, but that's a meager living. She's probably getting at least decent income and benefits from the company while she's on leave.

So, talk to your lawyer and don't talk to your supervisor, except through your lawyer.
posted by reddot at 5:43 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know how strongly she encouraged you to pursue your claim, but if someone that worked for me claimed any kind of human rights violation by the company, there is no way in the world that I would try and talk them out of taking action whether I agreed with their perspective or not. I would say something along the lines of "If you see things that way then you should file..." or "If that is what happened then you should file...".
When you think back to her encouragement of your action, and also think about your recent interaction when she said "stated I was taking her statements out of context or slightly misstated them" do you think this could have happened to you?

So, I see two possibilities:
1)You misunderstood the situation as above, and when you felt that she failed to support you in your time of need, you called and acted like a jerk and then sent her a really mean email. In this case you have effectively ended the friendship, and should let it be.
2)The company really are bastards and there was no misunderstanding between you and your supervisor. In this case she may feel very vulnerable being involved in this action, and being on sick leave. In this case she would fear very real (even illegal) repercussions, and I would try to cut her some moral slack for being in self preservation mode. In this case you should also respect her wishes and leave her alone.
posted by tcskeptic at 7:54 AM on March 28, 2009

Seconding that it sucks to lose a friend, but (IANAL) I imagine her tune might change slightly when/if she has to testify or be deposed under oath. You would do well to have your documentation in order if it can refute her denials.
posted by rhizome at 9:36 AM on March 28, 2009

You really should not have been contacting her like that during the process. I'm nthing what all of the people here are saying about how if you had a lawyer, they should have been telling you not to contact this person.

We don't know both sides of the story, but even if she is in the wrong, you should only contact her if you plan to apologize for berating her. You complaint put her under a lot of stress, obviously, and really, you challenged her based on information from other sources about what she supposedly said.
posted by fructose at 9:49 AM on March 28, 2009

I feel she repeatedly did things to gain my trust and then exploited that trust, all the while claiming to be acting in my best interests.

That's interesting because I imagine that's also pretty much exactly how she feels about you.

Too soon. Don't risk complicating this further just to ease your own burden, this is obviously far from over and I feel you need as much distance and perspective as you can get before you approach this person again.
posted by hermitosis at 10:10 AM on March 28, 2009

As far as getting my priorities straight, I'm starting to think mending this relationship is more important than my complaint. I knew that there was a good chance my supervisor would stop talking to me in this process, but I guess I thought I didn't care.. Until it happened. I am starting to better see how she must feel about the situation though. I just want to make things right with you.
posted by Raynyn at 10:30 AM on March 28, 2009

"you" being "her"
posted by Raynyn at 10:30 AM on March 28, 2009

Too soon. Way too soon. Get the action over with first. THEN wait a few months. THEN send her a card expressing your regret that you lost a friend over this, and invite her to contact you.

And you're too angry and upset anyway -- you say that you want to mend the friendship, but your description betrays a lot of resentment toward your former supervisor about her alleged betrayal of you. But her position in this sounds a great deal more complicated than a simple "right vs wrong" issue...perhaps some miscommunication? Perhaps some other company politics? Perhaps some shifting perspectives? And you knew that this situation was making her uncomfortable from the beginning. Surely you don't expect her to sacrifice her job in solidarity? There's a difference between encouraging you to pursue action and validating statements on the record. (I can certainly think of all the times I've bitched about work...and I sure wouldn't put most of it in writing and testify to it.)

This action has become difficult and painful, and you want your friend back to comfort you, which is perfectly understandable. But she's told you explicitly to back off. If you really care about her, give her some space and don't complicate this further right now.

Or, y'know, what hermitosis said.
posted by desuetude at 3:09 PM on March 28, 2009

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