Accused by former friend, how to deal?
June 2, 2015 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Friendship dissolved, unclear how to proceed with friends we had in common.

Last summer a friend agreed to do a small one-month-long communications project for my company. The work did not go well - over the course of many months there were errors and lengthy delays in deliveries for review, as the friend was also busy elsewhere. Eventually a stop was put on that project two months ago, without usable deliverables being delivered. As the deliverables were not completed, there was no payment for the work. There were no interim payments scheduled inside the contract for the work, as it was expected to be short term. Another consultant is now engaged to start all over and execute the work. The process with the new person is going much better.

I did not discuss the project with the friends that we have in common, nor did I mention its disappointing ending. My preference for such endings is to learn from the lessons (lesson one, don't hire friends ever again), fix the situation and then move on. Out of the blue, the original contractor sent me a strongly-worded note claiming (without details) that I am slandering their reputation to our common group of friends, and announced refusal to speak with me ever again. I am taken aback by the claim of slander. This leaves me wondering whether one of my friends might know about the work and is creating drama for their own enjoyment and tormenting the person who didn't deliver the work. Or is this a Machiavellian move from the part of the former contractor, forcing me to mistrust the friends that we have in common?

I want to continue taking the high road regarding this project and its sad ending, but now feel that I am forced to defend my reputation. To do so I would have to break my silence about the failed small project and talk to the friends about what happened, work-wise, between that person and me and present my side of the story. If this was up to me I would rather not initiate discussion about this situation with my friends and keep the high road. However I worry that by remaining silent I am losing control over the narrative and by not sharing my side of the story my reputation will be hurt among friends - and possibly outside of my circle of friends as well.

If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Slander means that you were telling lies about them, when it appears that the truth is damning enough. Regardless, you have done neither. I would say something along the lines of, "friend, up until now, I've always left work at work and would prefer to continue doing this. I haven't mentioned anything about you or your performance to anyone. I would prefer that you nip any discussion of this, or me, in the bud to any mutual friends who like to gossip. However, if you do not and continue to harass me, and drag me into your drama, I WILL set the record straight. The choice is yours, and the fact that you've been asked to leave the project is evidence enough of the truth, should I be pushed on this matter. Please, for both our sakes, leave me out of it."
posted by Jubey at 5:36 AM on June 2, 2015 [25 favorites]

In this scenario, your friend has effectively injured you, since you went through some trouble with them and they flaked on the job. Guilt and cognitive dissonance will naturally create substantial pressure for them to form a flattering counter-narrative where they are actually the injured party (e.g., because you're a mean meanie who's gossiping about the failure). Under those circumstances, it would be very easy for someone to exaggerate or misread trivial third-party comments as being somehow accusatory or maligning. Thus, I wouldn't assume that your mutual friends are actually saying anything at all about the job-- because really, how would they know?

If you're concerned that your friend may go ahead and tell those friends as a preemptive move to put their own narrative in place, then I like Jubey's script for nipping that kind of drama in the bud.
posted by Bardolph at 5:44 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll throw another log on the fire here and ask this question: What is the Original Contractor's reputation?
Are they known for being moral, kind, generous and professional?
Or are they known to be a gossip, a flake, and unprofessional?

As my Grandma would say, "Consider the source."

If the Original Contractor is the former, then you may have some clean up on aisle 12 with your friends SHOULD THEY MENTION IT. If this person is the latter, then I assume that your friends know as well as you do, that this person's facts about the situation might not be able to be trusted.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 6:17 AM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'd get a lawyer's advice on this one. I'm not saying sue them, just get advice.

slander is an actual accusation. They didn't accuse you of trash talking them, but of slandering them.
posted by tel3path at 6:39 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

It doesn't hurt to respond to the effect that you have no idea what your friend is talking about, and that you have not and would never discuss any details about the project with any of your commonly-shared friends or indeed anyone at all other than with your supervisors to the extent required for your work. I would ask what or who gave your friend the impression you had spoken to mutual friends about the project or your friend's performance. And I'd say that you're disappointed that your friend chose automatically to blame you rather than giving you the benefit of doubt and at the least confronting you with what they had heard and asking for an explanation.

If you're worried that your friend might take this to your mutual friends and acquaintances and injure either your professional and social standing, you might consider approaching a few of them (especially those who are sympathetic to you, or might have been close to the friend, or perhaps even be the vector) to mention that you're completely innocent, floored by the accusation out of the blue, and concerned that others will get the wrong idea about you.

Then let it go.
posted by slkinsey at 6:44 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

To friend who failed to deliver good work:
Dear Soandso,
Out of respect for our friendship and as a matter of professional courtesy I do not and have not discussed project X with any of our mutual friends. I wish you had asked me about this before writing me an angry note. I am sorry if you feel hurt by how things turned out, but if it has impacted on relationships with our mutual friends it hasn't come from me. Please leave me out of it.

To other friends:
"Oh why is Soandso mad at you?"
"They were working on something with [my company] and weren't happy with how the situation turned out. I don't want to talk about it."
(If your friends are respectful they won't push.)

tel3path's suggestion of consulting a lawyer seems like super overkill to me. Unless someone is actually threatening legal action against you there's no reason to overreact. People use terms like slander imprecisely all the time just to emphasize their point. Admittedly we only have your side of the situation but your (former)friend sounds like they're being dramatic, and possibly rationalizing their poor work performance by imagining malice where there is none.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:50 AM on June 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Your former friend has a lot of growing up to do. They sabotage themselves with shoddy work performance then blame other people for their failure. They then freeze people out to avoid emotionally confronting that failure. Clearly, it's catching up with them.

I would reply with a simple, "I haven't said anything about your work to any mutual friends or acquaintances. Best of luck, anonymous." Then let it drop and continue to be cordial to them if you happen to see them. Don't seek them out; they're trouble.

And I hasten to clarify that the only reason I would send this person any communication is that they sound like they create drama and it's never a bad idea to preemptively cover your bases with someone like this, particularly if the line between personal and professional has gotten crossed.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:59 AM on June 2, 2015 [23 favorites]

Yes, I like TryTheTilapia's answer because it puts your response in writing should you need it later.

You can't fix this, because you're not the one who screwed it up. Go about things with the rest of your friends, and if they ask just say he's mad at your company, but you can't do anything about it. (It's unlikely you need to do anything to convince anyone either - people are often pretty good at reading a situation. They probably know.)

Depending on your read of the situation internally, I don't know if you need to heads-up your manager or the project manager. If you think you need to tell them "hey FYI he's suddenly all het up over that, I suspect he won't contact you but just so you know" but I don't know that it's critical. This is not a unique former-contractor behavior.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:36 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Intentional or not this feels like a pay to get you into some sort of drama with your mutual friends, where she can pay the victim and not the screw up. Continuing to say nothing about it is the moral high ground and the right thing to do, responding even with an email will just feed the drama. Never feed a drama llama.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This leaves me wondering whether one of my friends might know about the work and is creating drama for their own enjoyment and tormenting the person who didn't deliver the work. Or is this a Machiavellian move from the part of the former contractor, forcing me to mistrust the friends that we have in common?

Or the contractor could be getting negative reputation fallout based on other unhappy clients and decided that the most "logical" explanation was that you had slandered them. People can be pretty blind about their own faults and responsibility, and panic can turn to paranoia pretty fast.

now feel that I am forced to defend my reputation. To do so I would have to break my silence about the failed small project and talk to the friends about what happened, work-wise, between that person and me and present my side of the story.

I don't know why you feel you need to address this with your friends -- you have absolutely no idea whether you're dragging them into this for the first time or not. (And if this is the first time they're hearing of it, you'll "prove" the accusation of slander if you bring it up to explain.)

I think you're better off sticking with your principles. If I were you, I would reply to the person and say very simply that there must be a mistake/misunderstanding/misinformation, because you have absolutely NOT ever discussed the work project or its ending with any of your common friends, and you have no intention of doing so.
posted by desuetude at 8:24 AM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm betting you don't have to worry about the narrative, agree with Lyn Never. If your friend is getting skeptical responses from your mutual friends when s/he complains about you (which s/he probably is, let's face it), they are putting 2 and 2 together on their own. I can imagine them thinking, "anonymous is a stand-up person, why wouldn't they pay X? X is kind of flakey, something must have happened...) X is probably digging their own hole.

Take the high road and continue not talking about this with your mutual friends, and send your ex-friend a note along the lines others have suggested.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2015

« Older Looking for a lightweight, simple MP3 player with...   |   Help me read what other autistic adults have... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.