Got into an ugly fight with my former boss. How do I solve this?
July 20, 2006 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Got into an ugly fight with my former boss. How do I solve this?

After five years with the same company, I recently quit my job as VP for a big tech company to start my own company. It is a tradition at my former company to have a farewell drink with colleagues etc, paid by the company. It is not clear who organises the event, sometimes the employee, sometimes the company. In this case, I organised a drink myself.

A few weeks after I left, I received an e-mail by my former boss. He had received the bill and stated that it was much higher that agreed, I had not managed this well and I should pay more than half of it. The fact of the matter is: we didn't agree anything and I was very disappointed that after 5 years of hard work and results (I made quite some money for this company), they would now ask me to pay a lousy few hundred box for my farewell drink. To be clear: money is not the issue, as I could easily afford to pay. It is the principle (and the lack of it at my former company) that was holding me back. Additionally you should know that 1) my former boss got really drunk and 2) we had a very good working relationship.

I answered that in fact 1) we didn't agree anything and 2) I was not amused by his suggestion that I should pay part of this. I also said that he should take his responsibility and not to bother me with this. No name-calling or anything like that.

He replied with a statement saying that he sent back the bill to the bar with my name on it and that his secretary confirmed that we indeed agreed on a budget. When I called her, she denied having said that. I then left a voice mail and emailed (basically: reached out) to my former boss and said: let's stop this e-mailing and let's talk this through, because this is not getting us anywhere. He responded by mail saying that "after my insults, he saw no reason to talk to me anymore."

I waited a week, meanwhile sending him messages asking for his co-operation in solving this, saying I never meant to insult him. He would not reply.

After that week I got so pissed (he had sent the bill to the bar and I was contacted by them), that I escalated this to his boss. I basically send a nasty email where I explained the whole situation, including the heavy drinking of my former boss (for which I now had to pay). This is something I am not proud of, but it felt right.

Although not to my satisfaction, I settled this with his boss. My former boss, however, is now really pissed and is of the opinion that I am a lousy character. Despite everything, I feel bad about this.

1) What should I have done differently?
2) Is there a way I can solve this with my former boss and should I try to?
posted by IZ to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
1) What should I have done differently?

i. You should have agreed a budget before hand, and kept a record of that agreement.

ii. You should have agreed to pay some proportion of it, and negotiated what a fair proportion was.

iii. You should not have told his boss he got really drunk.

2a) Is there a way I can solve this with my former boss...

Maybe, but...

2b) ... and should I try to?

No. Don't waste any more time on it.
posted by robcorr at 7:17 AM on July 20, 2006


Just pay. Send a letter saying that although you thought that there was no budget, etc., that in the interest of getting the bar paid you have paid the entire amount. Indicate that regardless of the bill situation, you hope you can remain friends. The high road is best here. No benefit to fighting. Guilt him.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:19 AM on July 20, 2006


1) You shouldn't have involved his boss, even if he was being a prick.

2) You can't. His boss now thinks (accurately) that your old boss is a prick and an irresponsible drinker.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:22 AM on July 20, 2006


1. As soon as your boss raised an issue about the biill you should have walked away from email, and picked up the phone or gone and visited him. Most likely with a few humourous reminders of his own drinking behavior your old boss would have ponied up the money or would have explained why he really didn't want to pay (sounds to me like he felt betrayed by you leaving).

2. Most likely there is not much you can do. You have hit him where it hurts - in his relationship with HIS boss, and he is probably furious. However if you want to try to repair this, I would call him or try to set up a meeting. Part of what got you into this is that you used email when you should have used human contact (CONTINUALLY) and that in emotional charged situations that always breeds miscommunication and additional conflict. So get off email and start talking to people.
posted by zia at 7:33 AM on July 20, 2006


Pay the damn bill. You should have payed it in the first place and let the old company be a prick. Seriously with business matters I always take the high road and people do remember. Responsbility doesn't really mean anything, if you can afford it (which from your job description and own admission this doesn't mean living of raman noodles for a week) chalk it up to a bad experience. Isn't the point of things like this to get shitfaced anyway? I'm really surprised they scorched the earth on this, it leads me to believe there is more at play you are not telling us or more likely -- he is not telling you.
posted by geoff. at 7:36 AM on July 20, 2006


1) What should I have done differently?

I personally wouldn't have arranged for the drinks myself. If the company wanted to treat you to a going away party, someone from the company should have organized it and been responsible for the costs.
posted by gfrobe at 7:41 AM on July 20, 2006


While I'd say "just walk away" is the best option after it's gone this far, if you have any chance of sorting it out, you need to ignore any distractions about principles, appropriate behaviour, or whatever, and just try to establish the facts of why he thinks a drinks budget was agreed on while you don't. Did you make a mistake (some casual remark, "oh, I can't see it going above a few hundred bucks," that got interpreted wrong)? Did his secretary make an error? Is she telling you both different things? Has he misinterpreted something? Did someone say they'd organise a budget, but then forget? Or is he just flat out lying?

If you can trace back the chain of events in such a way that you can say, "look, the way we both behaved was perfectly reasonable based on our assumptions - and this is why we had different assumptions, so that's where it all came from," then you have a chance of repairing it.

But don't get your hopes up. Once you went to his boss, you kind of burnt most of that bridge there. In fact, seeing as one of his motivating factors for getting pissy over the bill could have been embarassment at his own behaviour at the party, telling his boss about his drinking was probably the worst thing you could have done.
posted by flashboy at 7:52 AM on July 20, 2006


But don't get your hopes up. Once you went to his boss, you kind of burnt most of that bridge there. In fact, seeing as one of his motivating factors for getting pissy over the bill could have been embarassment at his own behaviour at the party, telling his boss about his drinking was probably the worst thing you could have done.

Absolutely.

While you may have been right on principle, you didn't do yourself any favors by setting the party up yourself, failing to get full approval beforehand, and then making accusations of being drunk at a company function to his boss. With all the mistakes you've now made, there is now ample evidence for your former boss to accuse you of being unprincipled. Therefore, you have two options. Apologize profusely for taking it to the boss's boss by having a sit-down with the three of them and trying to clear the air, or walk away completely.

Your decision for either option is based upon one major factor you haven't mentioned yet: this new company that you want to start, does it require a great deal of initial networking to put the proper pieces in place? Is the industry you're in small enough that your ex-boss can (and probably will) cause problems with recruiting and finding customers? Further, will this new company require outside funding who will want to speak with your former employers?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:00 AM on July 20, 2006


If your relationship with your old boss is something you want to try to resurrect, write an entry in your calendar for anywhere from six to 12 months from now to e-mail your old boss and say that you were sorry things got so crazy (word it so you are expressing regret at the situation becoming crazy, not apologizing for your actions) and say something really nice and genuine about your time working together. Then, three to six months after that, throw him an e-mail and see if he wants to do lunch — just two guys grabbing a sandwich and a drink. No guarantees it'll work, but that's how I'd try to approach the situation.
posted by WCityMike at 8:02 AM on July 20, 2006


It sounds to me like the old boss might have been fine with the situation until his boss questioned the bill, at which point you were an easy scapegoat since you were no longer with the company and organized the party. If he was fabricating evidence and being unreasonable, then you've learned a lesson -- it's a good thing you left.

Although the higher-level boss possibly should have been left out of this, it really sounds like your former coworkers who are aware of this will have adequate warning about this sort of thing in the future. I'm not sure it matters if he thinks you were a lousy character since he was the one who was trying to stiff you with the bill and blatantly lied about his secretary. Remember that.
posted by mikeh at 8:04 AM on July 20, 2006


You should have just paid. Being right is so much less valuable than having good relationships with people that you might end up working with again. Hine, whenever you find yourself saying that "it is the principle" you are going down the wrong road.
posted by LarryC at 8:09 AM on July 20, 2006


I think you should take steps to try to repair the damage you did to his reputation with his boss. Emphasize how competent your old boss is, and how much you learned from him, and especially how much you respect your former company and will continue to talk it up in the business community. Say it has been emotional for you to leave and that you let your emotions get the best of you when you discussed it before.

You should do this because, if you don't, it will be in the best interests of your old boss, his boss and the company as a whole to talk you and your new enterprise down because they will have to assume that you are doing the same thing, and that's the only way they can be sure of protecting themselves and the company.

Then I think you should go to your old boss and tell him how much you miss working for him. His reaction tells me his feelings were very hurt when you left, and that he has no place to put these feelings. He may well reject you, but it'll touch him anyway and his motivation to attack you to others will be greatly diminished.
posted by jamjam at 9:01 AM on July 20, 2006


I personally wouldn't have arranged for the drinks myself. If the company wanted to treat you to a going away party, someone from the company should have organized it and been responsible for the costs.

Yeah, the whole situation is bizarre to me—everywhere I've ever worked, you got taken out by coworkers or your boss. Making you contribute sounds like making you pay for your own birthday. But that's water under the bridge. As things stand now, I don't see how you can retrieve the situation with your ex-boss. But I also don't see why you care. He's your ex-boss. You don't have kids to bring up together, you don't have joint investments to deal with (I presume), you don't have any practical reason to have a relationship. I've never kept up with ex-bosses, and I don't see why anyone would. Just walk away and learn from the experience.
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on July 20, 2006


It sounds like the classic Phyrric victory: your relationship with your former boss is totally burned and there's little doubt that even though he came down on your side, his boss was left with a poorer last impression of you than previously. In the same situation I would have immediately insisted on paying the full tab, with a brief reply saying sorry about the misunderstanding and all the best in the future etc., and ticked my boss off as a contact of dubious reliability. Taking the high road is not the same as abandoning your principles; it simply recognizes that the erring party is not up to your standard and that it is not worth the trouble of fighting with them over it.

Attempts to repair this now are almost certainly pointless. I agree with languagehat: learn from the experience and carefully consider what is to be gained and what is to be lost when you decide to dig in your heels over a matter of principle.
posted by nanojath at 9:52 AM on July 20, 2006


Send him a check for three times as much money as he asked for, made out personally to him, and enclose a nasty little note to the effect that you hope that the extra money will compensate him for being dropped off your social register.

Then forget about it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:45 AM on July 20, 2006


Who knows how much of the damage can be repaired, but at this point if I were you I'd immediately deliver a check and a note saying "sorry about the misunderstanding, no hard feelings, etc.", then just drop it. Don't mention the stuff with his boss. Just make it short and sweet and get it behind you.
posted by ldenneau at 12:18 PM on July 20, 2006


ikkyu2, you owe me $100, you bastard. i never want to hear from you again.
posted by joecacti at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2006


The money thing is a bit of a mess, and it's not clear who is more correct/at fault there, but the money is far less important than the battle surrounding it. Based solely on this one anecdote, it seems probable to me that you may be prone to overreaction when your temper's up, and that you reflexively go for the juggler in even minor battles. If so, the thing to take away from this is a lesson that sometimes it's better to sit on the anger a bit, and reflect "how important is it to me to totally demolish this person over this infraction?"

This reason this is a good lesson to learn, is that your partner, your children, and your closest friends will all anger you at some point, and you will know just about all of their vulnerabilities and small secrets - that you can use to CRUSH them. If crushing is your first instinct in any sort of disagreement, you could find yourself burning far more important bridges than this one.

The tattling to your boss's boss was really low, and it seems unlikely that this can be repaired, but if it can, it will only happen in time, and WCityMike's suggestion might be worth a shot.

As far as what could have been done differently, I have only my own instincts to go on, but I would have:

1) not organized the event myself unless I was prepared to pay, though I might have expected the company to offer to pick up the tab.

2) Sent along a check after receiving the initial email, with a note saying "I don't might paying, but the request really surprised me, since traditionally the company offers to pay. What concerns me is that this suggests that there may be some problem between us that I'm not aware of. Do we have a problem? Because if so, I'd like to clear it up.

3) Not escalated hostilities by going to his boss... But if I did take it so far, I definitely wouldn't have called my former boss a drunk (however it was worded).
posted by taz at 11:01 PM on July 20, 2006


Response by poster: Wow, lots of good comments. Although -as a whole- your feedback is as ambivalent as I feel, I learned my lesson today.

In short for future events:
- Get off e-mail
- Take the high road in these kind of circumstances
- Don't let myself become a lousy bastard

What I should have done differently with this specific case: I shouldn't have organized it myself or I should at least have agreed on a budget (with written confirmation).

As far as the relationship is concerned. Although I still think he's a prick, I'm the kind of person that would prefer not to have any enemies. In this case however, I would have to agree with most of you that I burned my bridges and can forget about repairing this. We live, we learn.

Thank you all.
posted by IZ at 3:02 AM on July 21, 2006


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