Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

When It’s Your Word Against Your Boss’s

Dear Crucial Skills,

About a month ago, my director was investigated for violating policy. I provided information against her in this process. During the investigation, my director told my coworkers that the allegations were all lies. This caused my coworkers to view me as a troublemaker and a liar. I suspect she said the same to the heads of our company. As a result, she has been able to keep her job and I feel like my credibility is damaged. How do I move forward from here?

Credibility Crisis

Dear Credibility Crisis,

Some decisions are hard. This one isn’t. You’ve got to go.

The only way I would temper that advice is if you think there is a possibility you are wrong. If the following are facts and not fear-based stories you are telling yourself:

1. Your director violated the policy.

2. The violation is a serious ethical breach—not some trivial technicality (e.g., she used company funds to refurnish her beach house vs. she used an outdated company logo in a PowerPoint presentation).

3. Your senior leaders believe you lied in your testimony against your director.

4. Your colleagues likewise believe you lied.

. . . then you are in as compromised a social situation as you could be.

You’ve got two problems here. First, you are working in an organization that seems either unable or unwilling to hold high standards. Do you really want to work in that kind of place? And second, you have none of the social support you will need to get things done and to be rewarded for doing so.

You owe it to yourself to put yourself into circumstances where you will be honored for your integrity, where you will be able to do your best work, and where you will be recognized for doing so.

I wish I had a magic answer that would allow you to remedy the situation. But I would be less than a genuine friend if I suggested I have ever seen a situation like yours end well. Your choices are a quick exit or a slow meltdown. A graceful redemption isn’t in the cards.

However, if objective and informed people among your colleagues disagree with #1-4 above—then improvement is possible. For example, if:

1. Your director’s actions are more of a gray area.

2. The policy isn’t morally significant.

3. Your senior leaders disagree with your view, but don’t believe you lied.

4. Few of your colleagues are especially aware or see this as an honest disagreement between you and your director.

. . . then there is room for hope. But only if you are willing to hold a truly humble, open, and honest crucial conversation with your director. You will need to come to this conversation curious. You will need to suspend your judgments and be open to new information that might revise your view of her actions. But you will also need to come prepared to be honest if the new “meaning” you acquire does not change your view. The only path forward is through this conversation in which the two of you open up the possibility of gaining new insight into each other’s actions, motives, and perspectives.

I wish you the best in this profoundly important decision.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

8 thoughts on “When It’s Your Word Against Your Boss’s”

  1. Angela

    I feel the reply doesn’t really offer sound tools and if anything it could make the party seeking your advise feel more discouraged for trying to do the right thing based on their interpretation of the issue at hand. The statement/question, “Do you really want to work in that kind of place” is borderline inappropriate in my opinion – As the answer will most always be – of course not. However, many many companies face this issue on several levels but maybe the company’s mission is worth still investing your talents in. And/or you can’t justify an interruption in benefits or …… the list can be long with many good reasons why you can just up and change your employer. Leaving doesn’t address the question – and the question is a real issue. Unfortunately, I can offer about 10 -15 violations to policies just off the top of my head from within the company I support and things recently heard in the news. Do I like such a reality? No – but then one person can’t fix the big things much on their own. I do agree completely with the last sentence and I also feel time can allow for a graceful redemption. The senior leaders today may not have wanted to dig in deep, but the seed has been planted an they will be watching closer, and/or the director will retire, move to another company or be part of the cut with the next set of lay-offs. Who knows, the legacy of the person who brought you this concern, could be making that company (in the future) a better place as a direct cause and effect of them having the courage to try and right an unjust.

  2. Ryann

    I agree with Angela, Many work places have a non-retaliation policy and the situation the person describes *is* retaliation. Credibility Crisis needs to look into resources within the company – HR or the Legal group that handles ethics investigations.

    I don’t disagree that leaving is a viable option – but it is not the only option. To put the weight on the person who participated (presumably in good faith) in the investigation is not right.

  3. Sharon Campbell

    I would suggest immediately taking home copies of any commendations, letters of appreciation, etc. and your personal items (be gradual with the personal items.) Also, find people in the company who have integrity to give you letters of recommendation and to use as references. I’m not saying to steal what isn’t yours, but expect to be summarily terminated,

    I agree with Joseph; once you have a target on your back, people will be afraid to back you or even associate with you. My experience is that people who are in the wrong will never back down. And they will not stop attacking the person who challenged their behavior until they have destroyed them. (Hopefully, just figuratively.)

    Surely there are other organizations around with missions that you can support. This well is poisoned. Staying will only cause you unending stress and misery, which will compromise both your mental and physical health.

    And no, it isn’t right that you did the right thing and are placed in this untenable situation. But here you are anyhow, Move on to a much happier job. Most likely you will be better off in the end.

  4. Ina

    We deal with that on daily basis with our management team. Basically how we handle it is a very subtle but with effective questioning process. Basically, we walk them through the process of accountability with the questions. For instance, a Superintendent, Supervisor, Foreman. It is company policy for the employee to request leave from their Supervisor when he is present. But in the absence of the Supervisor the next person of authority is the Superintendent which is the superior of the Supervisor but the Foreman will be placed as the acting authority as a supervisor with no real Management clout. Foreman will assume basically all Supervisory responsibilities but is very limited to authorizing certain company policies but is still held responsible for the employee in the shop. The Supervisor is not present, the men are required to request their leave from the Superintendent, by passing the Foremen. The Superintendent then will approach the Foreman with the employee present and ask a very simple question, “Does this employee have work to be done?”

    Here is the tricky part. The employee is present during the questioning the Foreman must be very careful how he responds. Let me just use a an actual exchange.
    Superintendent – Does he/she have work?
    Foreman – Before I answer that, what if I say No! I know you will grant the employee the leave. But what if I say, Yes! You will deny the leave based on my response. Guess what? Who do you think the employee will be upset at? That’s right Me, Mr. Foreman because I said Yes, you will deny the request with your signature but leave the Foreman to deal with the employees wrath. So if you don’t mind, I would like to defer that question and leave it to your professionalism to make that decision. But I am grateful for your confidence in my abilities but this falls way out of my expertise.

    You must have a set of principles that will maintain your integrity and help sustain you through those difficult days. Sometimes, which may be all the time you will have to walk alone and you have to be willing to stand alone, no matter the consequences. You will be surprise at how many people in your organization is watching how you handle things and time will be your friend. You must leave your emotions out or else everything else is just reactive with no real consequences.

  5. James Kiernan

    Wow .. “You’ve got to go” . Sorry but that’s not really an option in many people’s circumstances. Jobs are not two a penny in many industries or cities. You can’t fall out of one and into another.

    This is also a case of constructive dismissal if they left and carries its own challenges. Why should someone in this position need to take such a drastic action on the back of them providing evidence in such an investigation (assuming they were giving evidence on request and not the one reporting). However this really shouldn’t matter either way. I think Joseph is completely missing the point and simply enforcing and showing all the negativity associated with office politics.

    This in essence is a case of bullying and we teach our children to stand up to bullying , not let them get away with it. If a woman is abused, do we tell them to say nothing and forget it?

    Granted and thankfully the article moved to having a crucial conversation with the manager in question. The best way to solve any problem is to talk about it. Start there, talk to people you can trust, assess the situation and remember “this is not your fault”.

    Mr Grenny really needs to reassess his social science skills..

  6. Rick

    I think Joseph is spot on. I am in a situation where his premise of “no support, and no recognition” is very similar. Jobs are not entitlements, and anyone who thinks so may find a rude awakening. You simply have to provide value no matter what you are doing (and if executive management does not agree about your value, it’s time to go). I have been “restructured” twice, and have always recovered. If I had to be a janitor I’d be the best damned janitor you ever saw!

  7. Grizzly Bear Mom

    I know that good jobs are scare, but believe that the write should look for a new job. I work in HR and have seen and experienced people working hard over the years to ruin their competitors careers. Too bad they don’t work as hard on actually producing results.

  8. Edith zito

    I questioned my bosses honesty in a group meeting and she wrote me up the next day for three totally different things. It was a surprise written warning with our HR MANAGER. She lied on the written warnings, frustrating me in the meeting and I couldn’t think straight to protect myself. The next day I read the written warning and realized the three things she wrote me up on were wrong. ( I refused to sign ) She had counted on me being flustered at the meeting to make me look bad and it worked. Now I want to put in a rebuttal but it will only be her words agains mine. I feel targeted because I speak my mind when know I’m right when she wants a situation to be her way only when its not the right way.

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