One of the more difficult situations you will face in your professional career is a negative review. Even worse than that is the written or verbal warning.
It’s hard to recover from such a serious ego-buster gracefully. In fact, it’s a skill that I have never mastered.
When I’m called out in the professional sphere, I tend to go into a psychosis my friends lovingly call, “Alan Shore Moments”. When I go from righteous indignation to outright irritation, I then transition into “Denny Crane Moments”. In case you didn’t watch Boston Legal, Alan Shore is known for his insanely political yet incredibly motivating speeches, and Denny Crane likes to shoot people with paintball guns.
It’s never really fair. I mean, the boss has all these insidious ways to get you. They have the time clock, they have the HR department, they have “3 month evaluations” and company history and seniority and precedence to stand on. Some will even declare that one casual conversation construes “a warning conversation” – and you’ll never even know it took place until you receive first documentation of your “final warning”.
Let’s say your company has an open-door communication policy which, in your boss’s eyes, you abused. They write you up for your “strongly worded e-mails”. My, oh my, what to do?
Of course, you should consider – just for the sake of argument – that you’re in the wrong. Try to look at this from as many different perspectives as you can. How could you have flubbed up? How could your performance been better? How can you correct the problem? If the answer to any of those three questions isn’t clear, ask for clarification until you get it.
I could tell you to remain calm, but given that you have strongly-worded e-mails floating around… I mean, I just can’t deal with heretics very well. You could have an Alan Shore moment or a Denny Crane moment… and those can be very fun and rewarding in the short-term. Telling the man to go “stick it” is always a great feeling. But then comes unemployment, and in today’s market, well… living in a Dell box just isn’t that rewarding. Stay calm anyway. It never does you any good to burn a bridge and get labeled as someone who “doesn’t handle criticism well”.
Believe me, I’ve had e-mail shouting matches with former employers… and I got in some damn good zingers, and so did they. We left it at a draw and now I can’t list that job on my resume anymore. Who won? They did. Unless I want to conceal the name of the employer, I can’t list an otherwise great performance on my part. They also decided to submit fraudulent reports to the unemployment office and cost me a lot emotionally.
What I do is try to find someone who doesn’t have an emotional connection to the situation – I let them help me write a response to the write-up. Not only is it a great way to vent, but it’s a great way to figure out what you can do better as an employee. You absolutely have to respond if you’re being stepped on. My father calls this being “preachy” and “auguring it into the ground” but I think it’s important to stick up for yourself, particularly if you suspect foul play. Not only does this let you explain yourself, but you can also draw attention from above or around you in order to gain support.
There’s no reason to not reply to a harsh write-up with a respectful retort. You lose nothing by doing it – after all, if they’re going to fire you… and you gain everything by trying it. A second chance, an airing of grievances or frustrations… and you’re right back on the path to success.
After all, if you can admit you’re wrong when you err, you’ve learned a valuable lesson. It might not be as fun as delivering a highly-energetic politically-motivated speech, but… you’ll walk away with your job and an extra two-weeks of pay to find a new one.