I was in a business relationship where it became apparent that the managing partner no longer saw my contributions as valuable. I had watched this partner gun for others in the past and “transition” them out of the company. Now her sights were set on me. So, before things got nasty, I devised my own exit strategy and found a job elsewhere. I tried to take the high road and not instigate a feud, I cloaked my departure in terms of a need for new horizons, etc. And while I did take a financial hit for a few years, things have worked out positively for me. Today, the ex-business partner is always friendly when we meet at events, and she recently suggested we do lunch to “catch up.” I’m conflicted. It feels hypocritical to pretend nothing happened, yet I don’t want to nurse a grudge. Which way is the high road now?
My Compass is Confused
Dear Confused Compass,
First, I’m glad things worked out positively for you. You should take pride in how you handled this crisis in your career. You assessed the situation and protected yourself and your family. You also avoided burning bridges or behaving in ways that would have compromised your values. Good job.
Sometimes I’m asked whether speaking up is an absolute virtue, whether people should always speak up, even when they think it might hurt them or their families. In other words, were you wrong to cloak the reasons for your departure?
My answer is no. Instead, I suggest that people weigh the risks of speaking up against the risks of not speaking up. Will failing to speak up put others at risk of harm? How serious a risk? And how serious are the risks of speaking up? In your situation, it sounds like you weighed the risks and made a sound decision.
So, should you meet your ex-business partner for lunch? You certainly can if you want to, but I don’t think you have any moral obligation to. I don’t see a high road/low road issue here.
For one, you describe your past relationship as a business relationship, not a personal one. Secondly, you no longer have a relationship with this former colleague, and there is nothing I can see that says you ought to. Ask yourself: “What do I really want for myself, for her, and for our relationship?” I suspect your answer will be nothing. But if your answer is different, you might want to meet with her.
Regarding your concern about nursing a grudge, a grudge is defined as a “persistent feeling of ill-will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury.” It sounds like you do have a grudge. Here is how you might resolve it.
Avoid ruminating, reliving, and reactivating the bad feelings. Obsessing about the way you were treated doesn’t help you or the situation. Instead, place the events into the broader context of your life. View them as a test you passed. Take pride in how you handled yourself.
Finally, as part of this reappraisal, try putting yourself into your former partner’s shoes. Try to avoid making her the villain and yourself the victim. Examine the role you played, and why she might have found you wanting. Recall the facts of the situation and ask yourself whether you could be telling yourself stories regarding her behaviors and motives. Ask yourself why a reasonable person in her position might have behaved the way she did, and why she is acting friendly now. You might come to a new understanding and gain clarity on how you’d like to respond to her requests to catch up.
All the best,
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The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations