Moira Forbes: ‘No easy answers’ challenge (@Work Advice Contest Round 1)

September 28, 2011

Moira Forbes is one of the 10 finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. Read her answers to the first round of questions below.

Racism in the workplace

My boss made a racist comment about my ethnicity in a meeting, I spoke up (I didn’t blow up - He said that Hispanics don’t value education and I simply said, “I’m Hispanic, and this is not true. Could you explain what you meant by that?” He gave an “I’m sorry you were offended” apology) and now everyone at work is uncomfortable with me. Joking about “political correctness.” I was really hurt that no one spoke up with me. My coworkers are my friends as well as my colleagues, I’ve invited them into my home for dinner parties and such. What’s a good way to bring such a hurtful topic up without running into a defensive wall?


Moira Forbes

Forbes: Addressing the comment immediately and calmly was the right thing to do, and what you may be sensing now is your coworkers’ unease with the entire situation—the embarrassing boss, your response, their failure to speak up, and the unsatisfactory resolution. It’s hard to put a positive spin on things when you’re feeling hurt, but if these people are your friends, you might try to see the jokes as a lame attempt to break the tension.

If you find yourself in this situation again, there are two things you could do differently. First, while it may have felt like a personal attack, in your retelling his comment appears insensitive, not intentional. Starting with “I’m Hispanic” puts the focus on you, not the general point, and may be why your coworkers didn’t feel that this was their fight. Second, your follow-up question puts the boss on the defensive. It’s cathartic to call someone out on their behavior but, as you’ve learned, it also creates walls. Next time, a simple “Whoa—what was that?” gives him the message and the chance for a do-over.

Loyalty to company or friend?

The human resources department at my law firm recently asked my opinion of a job seeker who is a friend of mine and a former law school classmate. I think “Doug” was a fine student, but knowing him personally makes me doubt his judgment. Doug was known in school (we graduated one year ago) as being involved in a very dramatic on again off again relationship, which is currently on, and for not always acting professional in professional settings. Doug can most likely do the work just fine, but I’m uneasy about recommending him based on his lack of “soft” skills. How do I respond?

Forbes: People skills and good judgment are critical in fields like law, where “doing the work” requires teaming with others and performing under pressure, not just technical expertise. However, you can’t tell from a resume if someone has these talents—it takes first-hand experience with a person. Your unique insight into his “soft skills” is as important as your opinion of his legal talent and should be shared.

Before you go back to HR with your concerns, however, be honest about your motivations. If your hesitation stems from his relationship drama, be certain that it will impact his work before you bring it up as a potential disqualifier. Plenty of people have issues at home that don’t spill over into work, and it’s not fair to assume that he can’t separate the two.

If you’re still wary of foisting him on your colleagues, tell HR. Be specific—they will know what kind of role the firm has in mind and if his weaknesses are a dealbreaker. If they decide not to move ahead, you don’t need to feel that you’ve chosen the company over your friend. Loyalty doesn’t mean helping him get a job that doesn’t fit. It does require being as direct as you can—with yourself, with HR, and—if he asks—with Doug.

Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant

Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

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