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I am a 25-year-old male and I work for a corporate IT firm.

Part of my job involves auditing (quality checking) other people's work and providing feedback. Recently, I listened to a recorded call, where a co-worker told one of our customers that a particular business partner of ours (a third-party company) is not customer friendly.

This was wrong, and I spoke to that particular person about this. She told me that she only did that because many people in our office have a similar opinion. And, she did not think it was a big deal. She is open to feedback and when I mentioned the consequences, she readily accepted and assured me that it won't happen again.

However, for a failure such as this, I am supposed to send out an email to her manager and a few senior management people. So, I sent an email about the failure and told the management that I gave my feedback to that person. I have been in similar situations before and the usual response from the management would just be an acknowledgement email suggesting that these type of mistakes should not happen again. The person in question is not looped in such emails.

But this time, her manager decided that she should be given a written warning. This is one of the three strikes before a corrective action is taken against a person.

I am not sorry that I sent that email. I still think that I have performed my job honestly. However, I feel sorry about about how the whole situation has turned out.

I want to tell this person how I feel. I am sure this person would be angry with me (she is a couple of years younger than me). She is not my friend or acquaintance. I just talk to her about work once a week (like 15 minutes).

This makes it difficult for me as I am not sure how she would take it if I say that I am sorry about what has happened.

I want this exchange to happen professionally, but not officially.

I am doing this only because I feel bad for this person, no other reason.

I am worried about:

  1. If this will question other co-workers' trust in me to provide proper guidance and feedback.
  2. I will have to be able to work with her and provide my feedback without this single episode affecting all future interactions.
  3. I am confident and clear when I talk about work or sharing ideas. What I lack is the ability to convey how I feel.
  4. I do not want her to misinterpret what I am going to say.
  5. I do not wish to discuss the situation extensively. Just one simple conversation should do.

I am looking forward to your help. Thank you.

UPDATE: First off, I am really glad that I asked my question here. I am surprised and happy to see a lot of people genuinely sharing their opinion. All of your answers and comments gave me different perspectives and helped me handle the situation. Thank you.

A small clarification before I tell you how the whole situation turned out. Asking sorry(being apologetic) was never my intention. Sorry, if I was not clear about this in my original question. As I mentioned earlier, my only reason for showing empathy towards this person was that I felt really bad for this person. This is because,

  1. She said and I believed that she did not do this on purpose and she feels sorry for what she has done.
  2. This is her first job after college and she has been in the company for 6 months. I felt that this could have impacted her choice of words when speaking to our customer. This should have been an opportunity for her manager to educate her, not punish. Sorry for not mentioning this earlier.

Coming back to the situation, it actually turned out quite easy and neither of us were embarrassed nor misunderstood. As I was analyzing all the opinions given here and writing down(as one of you suggested) what I was going to say, this person came to my desk and asked me how she should handle this warning letter - if she can dispute this warning thing given to her. She tells me that her manager has been personally targeting her and trying to make her quit her job. I did not get into all the reasons behind this but it has to do something with their personal life and not work related.

I told her all the available options and suggested that she reach out to HR. I even encouraged her to be clear and confident about what she was going to tell HR and not letting the hierarchy affect her stand. At the end this conversation, I made sure she felt that I was not happy about the written warning.

Thanks again everyone and sorry for the long post.

  • 2
    If someone was to "Quality Check" you... what could you have done differently? Would you get a written warning if you talked to her and didn't email? – WernerCD Jan 18 '18 at 16:05
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Do you know what the one thing you should definitely not say when you get in a car accident is? "Sorry." Regardless of your role, there's a potential that saying the word 'sorry' could be mistaken as a sign of remorse for your actions.

Since you don't feel sorry for performing your job as expected, don't explicitly say "sorry" - focus on picking her up in other ways. Make her feel like it's alright to have messed up (because it really is... everyone does it from time to time, and she's already been punished for it). I wouldn't mention the written warning, but maybe just say something like:

"Hey, about what we discussed the other day - I just wanted to let you know that my role in trying to help everyone meet the same customer service standards has given me a lot of time to see everyone's mistakes... We all make them. Don't sweat it too much. Let me know if you're ever unsure of anything, and I'll do my best to help you."

Here are the reasons I suggest this approach:

  • You solidify your stance that you were just doing your job without expressing remorse for doing so (which means that you will still be using the same discretion going forward)
  • You express that she's not alone in messing up (everyone does it!), which should help take the pressure off of her as a single example
  • You offer to explain any questions she may have on her performance in the future, which will help your working relationship going forward

Most importantly when you say this, don't say it with an apologetic tone. If you feel bad, she will probably feel bad. People pick up on tones. Instead, just say it in a calming manner. You're just 'letting her know' or 'dropping some friendly words' as you would to a friend having a bad day.

Personally, I think what you feel is natural. I'm sure she does feel a little down or embarrassed, because of the warning, but if you give it a few days (even without saying anything) everything will likely go back to normal and the impact on her will be minimized back down into nothing.

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    Just chiming in to say not being able to say 'Sorry' after a car accident is a very American thing. 'Sorry' means different things in different countries. – Rob Jan 18 '18 at 4:45
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    Well, in this case I feel like the only time to say "sorry" is just, "sorry this resulted in a written warning", which might be awkward for her to address with OP anyway... If I got written up I probably wouldn't want anyone reminding me, so I think it's a better approach to say something like what I suggested above. – Jess K. Jan 18 '18 at 4:55
  • "We all make them. Don't sweat it too much. Let me know if you're ever unsure of anything, and I'll do my best to help you." Sound condescending to my ears, but maybe that's just me. – Lasse Meyer Jan 18 '18 at 9:33
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Jan 20 '18 at 19:13
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I don't think this is a good idea.

You said she is neither a friend nor an acquaintance so there is no 'out-of-work' relationship that needs rescuing. You should not feel bad about doing your job correctly. Saying sorry for doing your job correctly will only weaken your position and take away credibility from the warning that was given to her.

Most importantly, you said..

"I do not want her to misinterpret what I am going to say."

..which suggests that you think she might. If she is angry/upset about it then she might deliberately use anything you say 'off the record' to cause trouble for you. You can't apologise in any official capacity because you were right to do what you did, and I definitely would not recommend talking to her privately if she is angry and may twist what you said in private without any witness to back you up.

On the other hand, she may not be as angry as you think, in which case it is best just left. She will likely get over it in time anyway.

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    I've dealt with auditors. They have a job to do. I may not like their result, but that's their job. And I have zero respect for an auditor who won't stand behind their work. Auditors expect that people will be unhappy with their result. Unless you go about your work in an unreasoning, rude, or vindictive manner, there's nothing to apologize for. Do your job to the best of your ability and follow company standards the same way every time. Then and only then will others respect you in your position. As an auditor, your job is at risk if you DON'T uphold standards. – baldPrussian Jan 17 '18 at 22:14
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    Thank you for the quick response. I will try to assess her state of mind before I try to start a conversation with her. I will update on this scenario in a couple of hours. – user9265 Jan 18 '18 at 11:46
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If you feel you must say something, I would not convey regret but surprise. Tell the truth, Perhaps: "Reports like that do not usually result in written notice, and I certainly did not expect this one would."

I do not think you should apologize. All you hope to gain by that is to salve yourself, not her, and that is selfish and perhaps even cruel.

You do not regret reporting her, I suspect you really feel bad for yourself because now she may be angry with you.

As for whether other workers will trust you -- Why should they? You have no intention of cutting them any slack, you are going to do your job to the letter whether it hurts them or not, without regret. I am not morally judging you, but it is not a reason to treat you as a friend.

Trust is a belief somebody will not harm or betray you, that they will act in your interest even when they do not have to do so. Based on this story, I would not trust you, I would be cautious and guard my words around you and treat you as a potential danger. Feeling sorry for me after you take a step toward getting me fired doesn't do ME any good or make me feel any better.

Do not express regret if you cannot be truthful when you say you should have done things differently, and if you could not truthfully say you would take an opportunity to make appropriate amends. IMO anything else is not 'regret'.

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    The only problem I have with this answer is that it opens the OP up to problems. He says the above, and the co-worker goes above his head, and asks why she gets a written warning when the OP thinks she shouldn't have. The co-worker thinks she is being singled out and probably gets puts in her place again by upper management and OP then gets called in by his boss and higher ups to be told in no uncertain terms not to question their decisions, and certainly not discuss it with the subject of their decisions. – Philbo Jan 18 '18 at 11:17
  • @Philbo That's a possibility to be aware of. I don't have much advice for people that are not allowed to tell the truth about their own beliefs in their job, I have the freedom to not work in such places. They may not. Perhaps the co-worker IS being singled out, or discriminated against, her decisions on her actions are her own. If I were the OP, I could stick by my statement as my true experience and reaction. But you are right, he might consider whether they are all just slaves before he risks irritating his masters. – Amadeus Jan 18 '18 at 11:30
  • This is OP. This is indeed a honest answer. I always maintain my distance with my co-workers because the work I do is finding mistakes in the firm and it actually makes my job easier. I do not regret the work I do. Talking about trust, you would be surprised if I tell you how many employees here trust the feedback I give and do not cross examine it. I just wanted to make sure that I am not damaging this quality of mine. Your answer gives me a different perspective of the whole scenario. – user9265 Jan 18 '18 at 11:43
  • I don't think you need to worry about that. There is a distinction between 'belief' and 'trust', I am sure they believe your feedback because you are the one judging them, so of course you know what you will report them for. IMO that is not 'trust'. As a manager myself, I do not assume my workers trust me, but I do want them to believe me, so I don't lie to them. – Amadeus Jan 18 '18 at 12:42
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You did your job -- I would not apologize for doing it.

You want to weigh in on how she should take the situation: In theory this is benevolent, but make sure you're not doing it to assuage guilt. If this is about your guilt, find other ways to deal with it.

With those things out of the way: I think probably the most clear, solid thing you should do is -- during the times when you do talk to her, as you said, there's usually a few minutes every week -- is talk about your own errors in places. Make it clear you understand what screwing up is like.

Alternately: Consider providing positive feedback in some manner. A lot of people in jobs where they have to monitor stuff are explicitly "looking for" bad things -- but see tons of good things done too. Find an aspect of her work she absolutely shines at (ideally one that's not been noticed much for whatever reason) and point it out.

The former demonstrates you're not trying to be a tyrant, just that screw-ups are part of what you're catching. The second would be a lovely way to make it clear she's valuable to the organization (which may help smooth things over if she is upset by this situation, and is worth pointing out in general anyway -- the assets people have are not nearly brought to light often enough, especially in a corporate setting).

Combining the two wouldn't hurt either -- demonstrate to her informally that you don't imagine you're infalliable somehow, and demonstrate to the company that you recognize her strengths.

(Although if this is the only time you've ever brought up something positive, then it may stand out too much and look like overcompensation. Also, your company's culture and practices need to be taken into consideration as well.)

  • Thank you for your suggestion @Sydney Flak. This is OP. The thing about pointing out good things is a good suggestion. I have not been able to do that so far due to lack of time. I will try to do that going forward. – user9265 Jan 18 '18 at 11:30
2

Because you

still think that I have performed my job honestly

you are rightfully

not sorry that I sent that email

You did your job and you did it well. I wanted to stress this just to clarify that you do not owe her telling her that you are sorry for the way it all turned out, especially - and above all - because

her Manager decided that she should be given a written warning

So, the best you can do to be "emphatic" with her is stressing the same clarification I stressed above, so that she clearly understands that you were just doing your job, you did it well, and if there's someone who made her feel bad in the end it is her manager (whether he too did his job well or not). This way you are being totally fair to her, even more than fair. Whether she understands and accepts your position (reads: being mature), at this point, is no longer within your power, there's nothing you can do more than doing your job well and even showing yourself to be a caring person.

That being said, to answer your other specific questions:

  • whether your other coworkers will trust you or not depends on - again - how much they are willing to accept you doing your job well and being a caring person (again, reads: being mature);
  • whether she is going to make something big out of this up to the point where future interactions are difficult, well, it will depends on her level of maturity, still out of your powers;
  • conveying how you feel is best conveyed by simply stating the pure truth;
  • misinterpreting what you say, in this case, would be, wait for it... lack of maturity;
  • yeah, a single simple conversation where you tell her the truth and the way you feel must be more than enough;

I repeat: you did your job well and you even went beyond that by being willing to tell her you are emphatic to what she feels... if she (or any other coworker) does not acknowledge and accepts this, I'm afraid you are dealing with someone lacking adult maturity.

My 2 cents, of course.

  • Thank you for the fast response @Markino. This is OP. Thank you for the reassurance. I will share the results in a couple of hours from now. – user9265 Jan 18 '18 at 11:33
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What are you thinking of apologizing for? Treating her in a professional manner? When someone is not taking responsibility for their actions and it is your unfortunate responsibility to help them out in a way that they may not appreciate, you may not want to, but it remains a part of your professional duty.

I would treat her no differently than before the whole situation comes up, but if she brings up the situation, you need to be clear and aboveboard.

I mean nothing against you whatsoever, but it remains a fact that spreading falsehood about this other company is very unprofessional, and as such, I had to take action of some sort. My hope is that the lesson is well learned and that we can move on from here with no hard feelings, letting the past be the past.

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I am confident and clear when I talk about work or sharing ideas. What I lack is the ability to convey how I feel.

I get the sense you feel some social awkwardness and would like to use this case as an exercise for starting to get more practice with social interactions, in a limited way.

Good idea!

For the first few times, I think you'll be able to go into the interaction more comfortably if you write down what you want to say, in advance. When the time comes, if you veer a bit from your planned script, that's okay.

Here is a starting point for you -- but please edit it if you wish, or start from scratch:

Anita, I wanted to let you know that when I wrote up my constructive feedback last week, I wasn't anticipating you getting a written warning. I hope there are no hard feelings.

I also get the sense you're concerned about the possibility that the encounter might take longer than you'd like. If so, it would be good to write several possible exit phrases too on your index card (which you may bring to work with you in your pocket if you wish), such as

Well, I better get back to work [back to xeroxing, etc.]. Thanks for the chat.

The whole thing could be done gracefully within a two-minute timeframe, I think.

  • Hey, this is OP. Thanks for the advice and you sensed correctly. I will be dealing with this in a couple of hours and I will share what has happened. – user9265 Jan 18 '18 at 11:27

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