Cindy Coe is one of the ten 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?
Coe: Good for you.
You’ve aced a tricky situation on the fly – in front of an audience, no less. When your boss made the Icky Remark, you could have sat there stunned and speechless. No, you saw the remark for what it was and challenged it. Check.
You could have overreacted and demanded your boss’ manhood on a pike. No, you gave him room to explain, apologize and save face. Check.
The stench of the episode is still wafting through the halls, so you could corner your colleagues and demand that they choose sides. No, you wisely gave the funk a chance to dissipate. Check.
It’s a good start. Really, it is.
Let’s face it: Diversity issues rock the Workplace Awkwardness Scale like few things can, and race is frequently at the epicenter. Many of us dread slipping up, being misunderstood, or saying something indefensible. Most people really do try to get it right.
Even though you were reasonable and kept your cool, you’re left feeling isolated and hurt, as though people you thought were your friends abandoned you. I get that. When we have to fight a battle, it is a bit jarring to see our friends sprint in the opposite direction.
Before you toss these colleagues onto your Former Friends Pile, consider one key fact implicit in your letter: *Not one person took your boss’ side.* Quiet unanimity ought to count for something, right?
Look at it from their perspective. You handled it. It’s over. They witnessed the Holy Trinity of interpersonal conflict: Remark, rebuke, apology. There was no need for them to take sides, and they’re ready to move on. If anyone brings it up again, signal that you’ve moved on too. As in, “Bill and I have moved on.”
What you probably don’t want is to let this become a miniseries, with you in the lead as The Person Who Can’t Let Go. With time, you may see that your good start also made a pretty good ending.
Cindy – who still feels awful for an Icky Remark she made in high school
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?
Coe: You can tell human resources exactly what you’ve written: You’re not comfortable. Doug will be out and he’ll never know why. That grinding noise you’ll hear will be his resume hitting the company paper shredder. It’s easy.
So easy that if it were the right thing to do, you would have already done it.
What’s stopping you might be your conscience telling you that Doug deserves better. Instead of doing what is easy, you’ll have to do what is fair -- to Doug and to your firm.
Here’s what you know for sure. Doug sounds like a solid prospect, which is why your firm is interested. If he’s good, say that -- enthusiastically.
You also know Doug is still your friend, so he must be doing something right. Does he have personal integrity, generosity, loyalty, people skills, something else? Nail this down and say it. Doug has his flaws, but his shortcomings haven’t been grave enough for you to shun him.
Still, your confidence in Doug’s judgment is shaky, and you can’t risk endorsing someone who will embarrass you or the firm. Fair enough.
Ask yourself this: Do you really know what you think you know?
You heard about Doug’s romantic Dust-Ups Du Jour, but unless you know more than you’ve said, it’s gossip. Besides, if he graduated a year ago, he’s the professional equivalent of a zygote. Doug may have matured (are you the same person you were in school?), so it’s a leap to say he can’t be trusted to behave now.
Which brings us back to what’s fair.
Doug sounds like a smart guy poised to move onto your turf. His star could rise faster than yours, and there’s only so much room at the top. Are you at all worried that this law firm isn’t big enough for the both of you?
Cindy – who would have pretended to ignore Doug’s romantic squabbles but who would have peeked anyway
Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant
Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers
Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists