Combat Career Suicide. Think Before You Hit Send.


“I’m going to tell it like it is” proclaimed a frustrated employee. “Somebody has to speak the truth,” bellows an irate colleague. “Are all the people in this company idiots?” exclaims an exasperated co-worker. When we see or feel the effects of a workplace injustice we often want to set the record straight, especially when we feel we have been unfairly treated. This is particularly potent for those who hold fierce convictions as to what is “right” and “wrong”. However, a loose tongue and a proclivity to speak the truth can manifest itself in rather salty behaviors and language that can result in one’s undoing. There is a fine line between irreverently expressing one’s convictions regardless of the potential fallout and managing through conflict in a productive manner.

What is “right”? What is fairness? In the workplace, it’s ultimately a matter of perspective. For over fifteen years Stephan has been an indispensable member of his team exhibiting unwavering dedication and loyalty.  His workplace persona began to unravel with a change in leadership and business strategy. The management team lost no time ushering in a more competitive and seemingly hostile environment. Stephan was having a hard time adjusting to this new approach. The new behaviors are in direct opposition to Stephan’s deeply held convictions, and he fears the new norm will cause irreparable harm to the team’s morale. Stephan’s confidence and behavior has been negatively impacted, and his frustration has mounted with no relief in sight and little prospect of improvement.

In retaliation, Stephan wants to leave the team and has written an email to his boss that expresses his sentiments. He intends to send the email before discussing his potential move, feeling that he is being “totally honest and above-board.” The email has an unequivocal point of view toward the current management, the damage being caused by their actions and demands for a next assignment. Before he hits send, the following considerations should be made:

What is his true intent? Could it possibly be to cast himself in a positive light by denigrating the philosophy and management style of the new team?

What actions is he expecting? If the recipients do not share his perspective, his aggressive, critical approach may result in making them defensive, angry and resentful.

How will this bold expression of “honesty” make things better? Unless there are concrete steps being put forward to address Stephan’s concerns, it might possibly inflame the situation.

While the thought of crafting and sending this email is appealing, in truth it only serves one purpose to make the sender feel better. In all likelihood nothing good will come of it. Such expressions of personal conviction seem healthy and positive, but rarely end with meaningful impact. In fact, initiating such an act can serve as a career-limiting move. If you want to make your concerns known, the most effective way to do so is to have a face-to-face conversation with the individuals you find yourself at odds with.

If writing the email does wonders to organize thoughts and empty the tank for pent-up emotions, I highly recommend it. It serves little other purpose and could potentially damage your career and subsequent advancement in your company. Constructive feedback should be shared but it has to be presented objectively and in a thoughtful manner accompanied by a suggestion of action that can be taken in the here and now.

While Stephan was caught up in the moment with a heightened emotional desire to send the email, upon further reflection realized that it wasn’t fair to those on the team and may cause an unnecessary strain on his current working relationships. Instead, he chose to have a series of conversations focused on what he wants to do next and where that may take him within the organization.