Michele Woodward 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?
Woodward: Well, that’s awkward. So, your boss apologized but the apology felt kind of hollow to you, huh? “I’m sorry you were offended” doesn’t pack the same punch as “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that”, does it? But the apology you got is the apology you have, and it would probably help to accept it for what it is. And then check your own energy. You’re ticked, and feel slighted, and uncomfortable – I wonder how that energy is affecting your co-workers? Think they’re simply reflecting your attitude? Maybe. One thing I’ve learned is this: if I shift my energy, other people shift, too. Ask yourself, “What do I need to move from uncomfortable to comfortable?” Do you need to talk to your boss again and clarify his position? OK, then do it. But remember – you can’t change anyone, you can only change yourself. He may be a small-minded racist bigot, and that’s his stuff. You, however, don’t have to sink to his level. You have the choice to be above the fray, positive, hopeful and connected to your colleagues. And if he is a small-minded racist bigot, you can also choose to start looking for a new job.
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?
Woodward: Gee, a lawyer without soft skills – now that would be surprising. You know, if every person who had ever been in a roller coaster romance in graduate school was excluded from employment, who’d get a job? Take a minute. Is it possible that post-law school Doug has matured? You know his relationship is steady – could he be steady, too? Is it possible? Why not comment on what you know – his aptitude for the legal work based on your shared law school experience – and let the HR people do the rest? I’ll bet Doug’s soft skills are being assessed through your firm’s interview process, and any red flags he sends up will be duly noted. Stick with the facts that are pertinent to the job Doug is up for, and let the HR people do their work.
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