Sincerely, Leaders of Color: The after is the hard part
Uncomfortable interactions are difficult for everyone. How do you decide what a relationship can be going forward?
About this series: Sincerely, Leaders of Color is written for everyone in the journalism industry who cares about creating a more supportive environment for journalists of color to do their best work. Have a question for the team? Drop it here and watch for it in a future column. This column is proudly sponsored by the Executive Program and the Tow Knight Center at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and our guest writers budget is sponsored by The American Press Institute.
What happens when you run into someone you rejected for a job at a local happy hour?
How would you act if you saw your former office nemesis at a networking event?
In most industries, especially small, tight-knit ones, even after you walk away from a workplace, even after you turn down the job or the candidate, you’ll see that person again. As the world keeps opening up, the likelihood of that meeting is even higher. And online, where the majority of networking has taken place during the pandemic, avoiding someone is kind of hard unless you employ the mute button.
These awkward interactions usually come about because people have acted without forethought or out of frustration or anger. They’ve not been kind. Sometimes your reaction, or the other person’s, is just deeply embarrassing, especially when someone is let down—for whatever reason.
Sometimes however well-intentioned both parties have been going into an interaction, it falls apart.
A boss gets mad when someone decides to pursue another facet of the profession. A desirable candidate decides they do not want to move. You’re so burned out you yell and scream because those are the only emotions that register anymore.
The simple truth is to remember that no matter how the last interaction went, you’ll likely have to deal with that person again. As with any professional interaction, do your best to act with care, empathy, and kindness. At the very least, act with the knowledge that karma and consequences are real in any workplace, even one you’ve left. If a person acts out of malice, it’ll get around. Reputations are about the quality of your work, but also about the caliber of your character as well.
These things happen. No matter the state of the world, it can be hard to separate emotions and think clearly when something hard happens. It’s uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing, it truly is hard for everyone. But it happens.
What now? And what now, especially if you know you’ll see that person at an event soon?
It’s never too late for kindness
Allow for people to change. Allow for yourself to change.
Some of the most awestruck moments I’ve had in past years have been when a person has come up to me and apologized for actions from five years ago. Sometimes they’ve been vexing over things I’ve completely forgotten about. Sometimes they’re things I’ve remembered and been pained over.
Maybe an apology isn’t needed, but a simple acknowledgement of what happened. Whatever it is, give grace to yourself and others.
Look forward, not back
Nothing is going to be gained by remaining resentful. The only thing that bitter tweet does is tell everyone that you are bitter enough to hurt someone publicly.
I’ve been there and done that. Resentment did not give me anything but more gray hairs. That’s not to say that you have to forgive egregious actions. But it does mean that you do not have to let yourself or others be defined by things that happened in the past.
Get a clear understanding of what the relationship can be going forward
I often tell people this when a working relationship ends: As long as you’re not leaving mad, I hope that we can remain connected. For most people who have worked for and with me, I am in their corner for life. Loyalty from workplaces overall is rare, but that does not mean personal loyalty is.
Ask if someone wants to remain connected, and respect if they ask for space. Be true to what you need.
If you ask to stay in touch, remain true to that. Say hi. Update the other person on how the decision worked out.
Test, and see if they’ll remain true to the relationship they said they’d like to have going forward. Be consistent in your communication. If this is a relationship you want to foster, both parties have to give and take. Emailing after three years of zero contact to ask for an extractive favor is not a relationship. That’s a transaction.
The key thing about the awkward after is to remember it can be awkward for everyone.
At the beginning of a working relationship, you act with more transparency as you get to know the other person. That same transparency is necessary for the after. It’s a new act, not an ending or an epilogue. The relationship will not be the same, of course, but whether that new version of relationship is a positive, reinforcing relationship, or one that is enemy- and fear-driven, is up to each person.
P. Kim Bui
Leader of Color
P. Kim Bui
P. Kim Bui is the director of product and audience innovation at the Arizona Republic. She’s focused her career on leading real-time news initiatives and creating storytelling forms for digital, print and broadcast companies catering to local, national and global audiences. Prior, she was editor-at-large for NowThis News, focusing on original, social reporting and breaking news. She was also deputy managing editor for reported.ly, a digital media startup specializing in social journalism. She’s been a speaker, trainer and teacher on leadership and digital journalism at universities, conferences and gatherings worldwide. She writes a newsletter for emerging leaders and managers, The Middles: themiddl.es