Last year I did something awful. I can give all the excuse—my bully ex-husband was making my life miserable, as was my volatile pre-teen daughter. I felt pressed for time and so falsified two reports. When a coworker sensed something didn’t add up and questioned me, I panicked and lied about it. I permanently damaged my relationship with my boss and coworkers and almost lost my professional license.
I’m on probation and can’t work in my chosen profession for three years. The verdict against me sits on my permanent public record, meaning that anyone who checks me out can see it.
I’d like to move to another city and start over, but COVID-19 makes that difficult. Also, my mother and sister live here and they’re my backup for my kids when I have to work late or get sick. I brought up moving to my kids and they all said they didn’t want to leave their friends. So, I’m here, in a community where everyone who works in my field knows what I’ve done.
I want to win back the trust and respect I’ve lost. I sent my former boss an apology letter and email, but she returned it unopened. I’ve called each of my former coworkers to chat, but all except one have begged off, claiming they were super busy, even the ones I know are furloughed.
Only one coworker agreed to have a Zoom chat with me. We talked on Friday and when I told him how very sorry I was and how much I wanted to make amends, he said, “I don’t think you realize how much you hurt us when you lied. And now no one knows whether this ‘I’m so sorry, I’m a new person’ is genuine or whether you’re planning to use us in a new way.” I was speechless and asked, “Does this mean you’ve all talked about me?” He answered, “of course.” and I hung up.
What can I say to win back everyone’s trust and respect? How do I handle those who ask me questions about my record?
Talk doesn’t earn trust. Repeated honest actions win trust and respect.
Begin by admitting what you did wrong, first to yourself and then to others. In your three of your first four sentences when we got on the phone, you gave four excuses, two of which blamed others. Although you acknowledge you did something awful, you explain away your behavior as if being panicked or pressed for time excuses lying or falsifying data. Then on Friday you hung up on a coworker willing to be straight with you.
We respect those who admit mistakes, even when doing so puts them in a bad light. We respect, trust and ultimately believe in individuals willing to take responsibility for their actions and willing to face hard truth.
Here’s how you make genuine amends. You reverse your former wrong actions. If in the past you’ve used others, offer to be of service to them. If you weren’t straight with others, tell the truth from this moment on, even when it works against your interests. Be the opposite of someone who plays games by realizing your actions have consequences for others.
Although you can’t work in your chosen profession, work hard in whatever career field you’ve landed. By doing so, you build a new record. Those who meet you and look into your past will then see an individual who acts radically differently than her record. If you’re lucky, they’ll ask you about it, and you can admit you learned a painful lesson.
In other words, don’t just talk a good story, visibly and completely change your behavior so that those you wronged, and others, see a new you.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions.”Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.
Photo credit by Cheryl Grey Bostrom, https://CherylBostrom.com