my former employee is badmouthing me to my staff

A reader writes:

I recently hired an employee in a pinch because we thought he could fill a gap quickly and efficiently, but it turns out he was terrible and either dishonest or in denial about his own skills. He did not listen or follow instructions, and his customer service skills were awful. Many times, even after after coaching, he was unable to complete tasks correctly.

After six months, he decided to resign. He wrote an email saying that he couldn’t work for me anymore because I am angry and hostile. He also wrote that after speaking with other employees, he has concluded that I am an unhappy person with anger issues, and that he feels that attempting to change the atmosphere would not be possible as this is just who I am at my core.

It’s one thing to raise the issue that our professional interactions were not positive (which is valid, I admittedly lost my patience with this guy), but it’s another for him to say that I’m an unhappy person at my core. He doesn’t know me.

If I’m honest, I just didn’t feel like I had a lot of recourse, and I was angry about it. He frustrated me several times a day and I admittedly stopped putting forth effort to handle his shortcomings in a better way because I was tired of it.

I really want to set the record straight with this guy, that he doesn’t know me personally and I’m not an unhappy, angry person. I failed as a manager, but he also failed as an employee. Is that worth it? More importantly, I want to set the record straight with my staff. How do I move forward with them?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, your former employee is dancing around all “Hey! I bring the drama!” Do not under any circumstances sprint out on the dance floor and try to outdance him with the power of logic.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. It sounds like the OP handled this badly BUT that is water under the bridge — you can’t go back and erase that. So reflect on how you can avoid this kind of atmosphere int he future and also focus on your behavior with the staff you now manage. If any of this spilled over, work on fixing that. Don’t discuss it unless you have no other option.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      What a great way of summing it up. If the OP wants to “set the record straight” with their staff, just remain professional and kind and they will make their own opinions based on their experience. If the departing employee was really that bad, the coworkers know.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if anyone brings it up, it is ‘well the sort of thing we have come to expect from ‘Former Employee’. Pretty consistent with his time here, doncha think?’

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Honestly, I wouldn’t even say that. I would just stick with something like “I’m sorry it didn’t work out between him and the company, but my focus now is to make sure our team is as strong as it can be.”

          1. Mishamigo*

            Honestly the fact that the OP feels the need to “set the record straight” and defend against his accusations makes me wonder if there’s not at least some truth to it. By their own admission, there were some bad interactions. Sound like both OP and the former employee were off base and blaming each other, but probably both culpable.

            As others have said, best to let it go and not mention it unless someone else does. Addressing it only gives merit to it. Existing employees already had an opinion of OP before this guy wrote the email. If it didn’t align with what he said, they won’t care anyways. If it did, then perhaps OP needs to reflect on why that’s the case.

        2. Fluffy Fish*

          This is not a good idea. It’s badmouthing a former employee and that’s not something a manager should ever engage in especially to staff.

          Indirectly saying the employee was terrible is still saying it.

          It’s also going to look super bad given OP admitted they didn’t behave in a professional manner as a manager.

        3. Mongrel*

          Nah, they thrive on the drama they cause even if they’re not there to see it.

          I’d also be dubious about his claim of talking to other employees as validating his experience, they either went into the conversations with their mind made up and twisted everything to fit their preconceived notions or are outright lying. An ex-friend often tried the “Well, I asked all the other people and they agree with me” ploy to try and be right all the time and it got tiring very quickly.

    3. RIP Pillowfort*

      Exactly. Reading the context of the email, he’s baiting her to respond by either telling him off or question their standing with their employees.

      He wants a reaction and you absolutely don’t give this kind of person the reaction they’re looking for.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      This. This guy’s projecting his issues so hard he should apply at IMAX. Don’t bother to engage.

  2. Chairman of the Bored*

    If I were one of LWs other employees and had a favorable opinion of her based on years of working together my response to this guy’s email would be to think “hmm, guess that weird short-time dude really was nuts” and then shrug and get back to work.

    This guy’s email wouldn’t impact my view of the manager at all, and they would not need to take any action as a result of it.

    Don’t engage, don’t treat it as a big deal with your staff.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah this is definitely a case of “your reputation is going to speak for itself either way”. If it has no merit, people will brush it off. If it does have merit, they already know and following up won’t do anything.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Honestly, if he was this dismal at his job, everyone already knows exactly why he left and are glad about it.

    3. TBagpuss*

      Yes – some years ago we had a staff member who was with us for a fairly short time and who wasn’t a good fit or very good at their job. They resigned, which was fine, but they the sent a 5 page letter to the management team and, separately , a similar letter to the people they had worked with.
      We didn’t share that she’d sent one to management and we did have several staff members tell us about the other – all of whom were doing so in ‘this is totally bananacrackers but we thought you might want to be aware’ way. It didn’t affect that way that other staff members saw the manager who was targeted most because they knew from their own experiences that the accusations were not accurate. A couple of the lines from the letter did become catchphrases round the office for a bit (there was something about how demeaning it was to expect them to do a very normal part of their job, which was in the job description in the original advertisement, for instance) . It would have been super weird for the line manager to have responded or justified themselves.

    4. kiki*

      “He did not listen or follow instructions, and his customer service skills were awful. Many times, even after after coaching, he was unable to complete tasks correctly.”

      Yeah, I think especially since this worker seemed pretty obviously bad at his job and was only around for a short time, there’s nothing that really needs to be addressed with the team on this. Unless the team really loved this guy or there were already a lot of bad feelings towards LW from their staff, I don’t think LW should be worried.

      1. abankyteller*

        I only ever read it through this site. I wonder what that number is. Interesting.

        1. Paywall Issues*

          Depends on the site. Five used to be a common number for websites I visit. I wouldn’t’ t surprised if the number is less.

          That being said, on a monthly basis there are a low number links to Inc. articles posted here. I don’t see how you run up against a paywall if those are the only articles you read.

        2. Ontariariario*

          My attempts to read the articles always hit the paywall. I tend to check from work so I don’t know if they have a max for the entire company or if they have a different policy for non-U.S. I assume they track usage based on IP addresses or similar, so this problem would make sense if they treated all of us as one entity. Or maybe our internet providers track things differently.

          It doesn’t bother me, I no longer try to read the article and quickly scan the comments for anything thoughtful, but I mention it in case you never get any free articles so you know that you aren’t the only one.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            The way our corporate network works at my job, everyone at my location — all 500+ of us — look like we’re coming from the same IP address. So anything with a limited number of free articles gets used up basically immediately!

            Also I once got blocked from an ecommerce site because they thought I was an automated process. :(

          2. jimmi*

            i check it at work and its literally never been paywalled for me– i wonder if we have some kind of rotating IP or something thats not registering as the same person? no idea

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This! When I looked into it, it is not a terribly expensive subscription and they do have some other useful articles there.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I just upgraded to the $34.99 for two years option, which works out to $1.46 a month.

          1. Natalie*

            Oh, is it that little? I’ll go ahead and subscribe then.
            I was assuming it was a lot more than that.

            Thanks for the info! :)

      2. HonorBox*

        Yeah, and you get the magazine, plus opportunity to read all of the articles there.

      3. Ground Control*

        I only read Inc. for Alison’s content and I’m more than happy to pay for a subscription! She’s so generous (SO GENEROUS) with the amount of free content she shares it’s literally the least I can do.

      4. Boss Scaggs*

        I wonder if the name Inc was intended to have a double meaning – Inc as in incorporated but also as in Ink, like a magazine, reporting, etc.

        Nonetheless you can still support AAM in other ways – such as in her book recommendations there are links to Amazon. Plus I assume even if you only read the free ones, that still helps with metrics and such

      5. Allornone*

        Yep. I’ve done this as well. I can afford that and it seems the least I can do since this site is a big reason why I even have a job to afford it. So cheers Alison being compensated for her work!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Yep, it’s a bummer that Alison gets paid for some of her content.

      1. Seashell*

        If I click on there without subscribing, presumably I see some ads that make money for the website too.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Sure, lots of places choose to have multiple ways of bringing in income so that they can pay fairly.

      2. Prospect Gone Bad*

        It’s a bummer that we need to discuss this every single week like paywalls are a new invention

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Yep. It’s very, very common. There are plenty of options out there to deal with it, including paying for a subscription or just reading the free articles available for your browser that month. I have never had a problem accessing anything I really wanted to read.

    2. A Librarian*

      For what it’s worth, many university and maybe even some public libraries provide access to the full text of stories via the Nexis subscription database…it’s an extra step or two to hop in and search for Alison’s byline, but my understanding is these third-party publishers pay royalties to the original sources (so I hope this is more above-board than the typical “advice on getting around paywall” messages).

  3. Aelfwynn*

    Man, I get it. When someone gets something wrong about you (and especially when they make a statement about “this” being who you are at your “core”, there’s an impulse to set the record straight and defend your own honor. The reality is (and this is something that I’m trying to work on as well) is that you’re likely never going to convince someone to like you/change their mind about you/not be a jerk. The best thing to do is to prove them wrong with the way you manage your other employees.

    Sounds like there were some missteps in managing this particular guy, but if you take that experience, learn from it, and treat your other employees with patience and respect, that one dude’s take is not going to make a whole lot of difference in your reputation.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Very much this. OP is willing to admit that s/he did not always act in the best way. So this letter is like, “I acted badly. I acted badly. He acted badly. He won’t admit it. What can I do to get him to meet me half way?”
      OP is playing tic tac toe; he’s playing Thermonuclear World War.
      He will destroy his own reputation to blow up OP.
      OP, let this go and play a nice game of chess.

    2. Heffalump*

      I beat my head against the wall for some years, but I finally realized that getting jerks to see the error of their ways was a fool’s errand. Jerks don’t think they’re jerks.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      And chances are more than good he doesn’t actually believe it anyway–he knows he flamed out and wants to plant matches in the LW’s hand in order to not feel responsible.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    Don’t take the bait.

    I have no way of knowing if you’re fundamentally angry or not but that you’re viewing this as a personal thing and you need to convince him he’s wrong suggests that you’ve slipped out of a professional mindset.

    Ignore him. Engaging with him gives him power.

  5. Addison DeWitt*

    Dear staff,

    As you’ve probably heard, a former employee has been contacting staff members to express their opinion about the company.

    While I can’t discuss personal issues regarding any employee, if you have concerns about the company based on what you’re hearing, I am happy to talk with anyone here about those concerns, honestly and as openly as I can.


    1. MsM*

      I don’t even think he warrants this much acknowledgment. Given OP’s suspicions about him lying about his skills, there’s no reason to assume he actually even talked to anyone. And if OP actually is in touch with his staff, he presumably already knows who might have issues he needs to work through, and can just address those in the regular course of his duties. (If not, maybe this is a good excuse to start setting up more one-on-ones or forums where people can talk, but I wouldn’t advertise it as a direct reaction to one disgruntled ex-employee.)

    2. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      Don’t. This is just part and parcel of being a manager and this type of response just makes you look thin-skinned. Just treat your staff well and don’t worry about it. It will pass.

      1. Sleeve McQueen*

        Making peace with the fact that there are always going to be people, who if your name came up as a “someone you might know” on Facebook, will think “ugh, this f’ing guy/gal” is an important life skill, especially as a manager.

    3. coffee*

      If I read that I would immediately start speculating as to what those concerns are, from “my disgruntled ex coworker is bad mouthing the company” to “the company is about to be sued and go bankrupt and we’ll all be out on the streets” (before reminding my anxiety to settle down). I wouldn’t send this kind of vague message.

  6. Emily*

    Do not under any circumstances engage with this guy. He clearly has issues. It may be worth reflecting on anything you could have handled anything differently, but getting in a back and forth with this guy is not going to lead to anywhere good.

  7. learnedthehardway*

    Definitely DO NOT engage. You’re not going to convince him of anything. And frankly, his opinion doesn’t matter. What he wants is an excuse for his behaviour – he’s found one, and nothing you or anyone else says is going to change that. There’s no point pursuing the respect of people whose opinion is clouded by their own ego preservation.

    But, guess what? It doesn’t matter. Your productive employees know the score – they know the guy was a flake, they know you’re overall a good manager. They know your strengths and weaknesses as a manager, too.

    If you feel that you were harsher to this employee than you should have been, perhaps look at how you can learn to improve your management style. But don’t take feedback from a lousy employee to do it.

  8. emmylouwho*

    I really agree with Allison’s thoughts here about considering their managerial style for this LW. While it sounds like this employee was a disaster/nightmare, letting it get to the point where he just resigned probably brought stress on the rest of the office (who were in less of a position to push back on him).

  9. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    The way you “set the record straight” with your staff is by being a fair, honest, respectful, and reasonable manager. If you are, they will see this short-term employee was the one with all the issues and projecting.

    I do suggest though you give some retrospective to why this person frustrated you so much and pushed your buttons to this extent. I’m not saying he was right, but sometimes it’s also possible there might be a small grain of rice/salt to some of his claims. It can be worthwhile to think about what you could have done differently, because as a manager you will surely come upon others like this person in your career. It will always be a challenging situation to manage through.

    1. Cait*

      I came here to say the same thing. Personally attacking someone is the height of unprofessionalism so this guy doesn’t necessarily sound like someone other people would jump to agree with. HOWEVER, failing to address an employee’s issues because you’re tired of them and then yelling at that person because you’re frustrated with them is not a sign of a good manager and is also unprofessional. Basically, this bad employee was able to drag OP down to his level and OP needs to be bigger than that. Going on the defense now will only do more harm than good because it gives more oxygen to Bad Employee’s argument. OP needs to look inward instead.

  10. HonorBox*

    As the old adage says, actions speak louder than words. So you may want to “correct” the wrongs that happened with this former employee but it would be best to do that through your actions. Maybe this situation was an anomaly, but what can you learn and do different if someone else is as bad as this person was.

    All that said, do not engage with the former employee. Those actions will speak very loudly to present employees.

  11. Pescadero*

    I’m afraid that anyone who feels a need to “set the record straight” with a former employee who no longer has any effect on you… sounds like an unhappy person at their core.

    He’s gone. It’s done. Why are you hanging on to it?

    1. JelloStapler*

      Actually, I can say I’m a happy person but also an empath and probably a people pleaser, so the thought that anything he said rang true and alienated my staff- I’d be doing some soul searching.

      Not surveying my reports but just seeing if there is anything I could do differently next time.

      1. JB*

        Yeah, most people wouldn’t consider a self-described empath and people-pleaser to be an inherently happy person. Happy is not synonymous with cheerful or with being able to put on a smile/name things that you’re thankful for. Some inherent security in yourself is a requirement.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      I think that’s a pretty broad diagnosis based on what’s in the letter! I’m glad you’ve been able to fully internalize “words will never hurt me,” but most of us can be angered or hurt by them in ways that don’t evaporate once the other person is out of the scene. It seems like a very understandable impulse not to want someone who’s been frustrating you for *months* have the last, libelous word. LW has correctly paused and not acted on that impulse.

    3. Ahnon4ThisOne*

      Yes, I kind of agree with this.

      I’ve reached my max Inc. articles, so I can’t see Alison’s advice, but imo LW needs to let it go. They do seem to be doing some reflecting based on the language in the letter, but “setting the record straight” with the former employee will just add fuel to the fire. Also gives me the impression that some of the claims the former employee made may exaggerated but slightly based in truth (for example, LW may not be hostile overall, but snippy when stressed).

      1. empty green*

        But we all get snippy when we’re stressed. I think what matters in how someone manages is the overall big picture, not every little action. My boss got snippy with me today, but I happen to know she is headed to an unexpected funeral this weekend. Even if I didn’t know what is driving her stress, her getting short with me does not at all detract from the fact that she is a dynamic manager who I wouldn’t trade for the world.

        Big picture.

  12. CityMouse*

    There is absolutely nothing to be gained by engaging with this guy. These moments happen (especially if you work wuth the public. I once got accused of conspiring against a lady when I was just a clerk checking proper hearing notices) and while it is tempting to want to defend yourself, it just doesn’t have any kind of gain. Delete the email, vent to a friend, but do not respond.

  13. Bea*

    The former employee has free speech. Unless he says something untrue, it’s not slander to say that someone is “unhappy” or a jerk or whatever. This goes both ways, though. If OP disagrees they are more than free to share their opinion as well. At this point it seems to have become interpersonal, not professional.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      This is not a free speech issue since the government is not involved and company email does not meet any definition of the public square. Further, no one is suing, so the legal definition of slander is irrelevant. It would be libel here anyway, if such a thing applied.

  14. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    This too shall pass.
    He is the one dragging it out. He is the one who wants to turn a six month job he quit into his identity.
    It is demented.

  15. Chickaletta*

    Curious how the advice would change if the roles were reversed because I’m dealing with a boss who badmouths me behind my back, but it’s not in a way where I can address it without looking like I’ve been sticking my nose where it shouldn’t be. It bugs me because I’m his EA and he’s saying things to other executives (so his counterparts, not mine) that make me look like I have bad judgment. It bothers me that he tarnishes my reputation around other executives.

    Examples: I once overheard him talking to one of his VPs about an upcoming business trip (I sit right outside his office, the door was closed but you can still hear conversations through it) and joked “if Chickaletta booked the room, you better bring a gun to protect yourself, ha ha. One hotel she booked for me had fluorescent lights in the room, god”. (For the record, I always try to book hotels within our price policy and had never stayed in that city before so I could only go off of online pictures. And he never told me the hotel I booked him at was a problem for him. When he chooses the hotel, they are always several hundred dollars a night more than our policy allows, so I know his taste is expensive. Knowing this, I always try to find the nicest places for him without going too far out of our company policy, but I guess I got it wrong once. Personally, I think it’s important to be good stewards of our finances since we’re a non-profit hospital).

    I also once saw an email from him to another VP when I was cleaning out his email box about a concern I had raised, and he had written something to the effect of “sorry to bother you with this, you know how the assistants blow things out of proportion”. I was not copied on this email and it was not meant for me, but I saw it because I was cleaning his email box per his request. Despite this, I feel like bringing either of these examples to his attention could very much look like I was eavesdropping/snooping, even though they were just things that I inadvertently came across in the normal course of my job. So, I don’t have a path to bring it up to him. To my face, he’s jovial and tells me I do a fabulous job.

    My course of action so far has been to ignore it when I learn of something he’s said behind my back, continue being professional and kind around everyone, and hope that people are smart enough to realize who I really am. But my boss has way more interaction than me with the people he talks smack about me to, so if they think he’s competent in other ways, they may have no reason to disbelieve him. I have a feeling that at least a couple of other senior executives feel my boss is somewhat incompetent, but I think a lot of people really do like him. He’s great at personal relationships and being buddy-buddy with people and making them open up. Probably because he has little filter himself.

    1. Bad Wolf*

      IMO, this isn’t even about you. He sounds like one of those guys who talks shit about his wife at parties. Makes him feel bigger. Most people (especially people who know him) can see right through it. They know this is all about him and his insecurities. Not you.

      1. Tattoo'd Librarian*

        This is exactly what came to mind. My dad used to be this type of guy, the one who rags on his wife whenever company is around because his personality sucks and he thinks his jokes are funny. The two examples given definitely give that vibe “you know how the assistant’s are, haha I’m funny and likable please laugh”.

    2. Meep*

      Anyone who matters is going to realize he is a drama king based on what you discribed.

      I had a horrible boss who couldn’t say anything nice about anyone. Any time you tried to tell her something positive about someone else and stuck with it, she would get a sour look on her face. Everyone knew it. Heck, we only had one person mad that she left. He wasn’t even a client. He just liked the fact she flirted with him.

      Everyone else knew she didn’t “resign” by choice even if that was the story she was allowed. I think someone called it the Missing Stair?

    3. Emily*

      I think this really depends on what you know about your boss, but I think it would be appropriate to say, “You probably don’t realize, but even when your door is closed, the sound from your office really carries. I heard you expressing concern about the hotel room I booked you for X trip. I was really surprised because you had not expressed those concerns to me. Could you please tell me directly about any concerns you have about my work? I’d hate to think I was doing something you did not like, but I did not know.”

      Of course, if this behavior is par for the course for your boss and your boss is kind of a jerk, this may be one of those “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” scenarios where you have to decide if you are still willing to work for him knowing he is like this. Though even if this behavior is typical for him, it may still be worth having a direct conversation with him (assuming you feel that he wouldn’t get angry or take it out on you in some way that would make working for him even more unpleasant), because it seems sometimes people act like this because they get away with it, and if you (politely) put him on notice that you know he has been talking about you behind your back, it may spur him to act differently (or not).

    4. mondaysamiright*

      Wow, he sounds like a peach! And the examples you gave were ridiculous. It’s hard to believe that a reasonable person would view those comments with any amount of credibility, but you’re right that people like your boss are good at kissing up to the right types of people, and they’ll often be weirdly blinded by his charms. You’re probably doing the right thing, continuing to be professional and competent, and not bringing it up with him, it’s hard for me to imagine he’d change (he’d just have one more absurd thing to complain about the next time he talks smack about you to a buddy…). I hope you consider looking for another boss/job, this kind of thing can be really demoralizing.

    5. Anonymous Admin*

      I had that boss. Blamed me for everything. I don’t mind taking the blame sometimes (EAs sometimes have to be the shield). But I did think he was painting me as a ditz, and wrecking my rep. He got pushed out; I didn’t. His big bluster didn’t fool anyone.

    6. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      So, hotels with fluorescent lights are the same as hotels in the bad part of town? I know that if someone made that comment to me I would be super puzzled, and also wonder how precious they are that they can’t stand fluorescent lights.

      1. Garblesnark*

        I have migraines that are significantly worsened (or even triggered) by florescent lighting, but I still wouldn’t complain this way about it.

    7. coffee*

      If I was in a conversation where the boss carried on about not liking the room his EA booked, I’d be questioning his judgement! Because he’s your boss, so he can easily just be like “Hey Chickaletta, can you book me rooms without fluorescent lights, I don’t like them” or “Please book me a hotel in a different area” and the problem (I use the word loosely) would be solved. But instead he’s going on like there’s no possible solution. What else should he have just dealt with but hasn’t?

      My sympathies, he sounds like a real pain to work for.

  16. NNT*

    Don’t respond! That is what he wants. The only way to deal with a drama Llama is by allowing them to stew in their own irrelevance by only offering bland silence. (Incidentally, this advice works in the personal realm as well as the professional. )

  17. SheLooksFamiliar*

    ‘Setting the record straight’ might be meaningful to you, OP, but not to this guy. Truth be told, your own team probably isn’t terribly concerned about it, either. I imagine they care more about how you behave now and in the future.

    You acknowledge you could have handled things differently, which is good. But you can’t re-frame what happened with these realizations. Just be the manager you know you can be, and that will mean more to your team – and yourself – than your past ‘record.’

  18. JasDog*

    I agree that you should not engage with the former employee. When someone writes something as provoking as “you’re unhappy at your core” and the heavy insinuation (with the “i’ve decided this after talking to others”) that everyone else would agree, their goal is not to give you professional feedback to improve your management skills, it’s to get under your skin. A response is exactly what he wants, don’t give it to him. Just reflect on how you could better handle a similar problem employee in the future. Not to beat yourself up, but to continue to improve and hone your management skills.

  19. Meep*

    Think about it this way…

    It is kind of like those owners who respond to bad reviews trashing the client and their personality. The client could be right about the interaction. The client could be wrong about the interaction. They may look bad. Either way, you look like a raging crazy person.

  20. MassMatt*

    The likelihood of getting anything positive out of responding to this guy is one or two percent, at best, compared to high likelihood that any response will drag the drama out more and/or make you look worse.

    Take the energy you were considering putting into responding to ex-employee, and instead think about what you did wrong in hiring/managing him, and work to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again.

    It sounds as though he was working there a few months at least after it was clear he didn’t have the skills/personality/ability to do the job. In future maybe think back to this experience and realize that while having to fire someone is unpleasant, it often beats the alternative.

  21. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

    Op, you don’t have to join every argument you’re invited to. He doesn’t like you, you dont like him: so what? What could you possibly gain from fighting with someone who isn’t even working there anymore?

    Just be a good manager with current employees, and this too shall pass.

    1. goddessoftransitory*


      OP, the trash is taken out. You don’t have to fight the possum for it.

  22. Lorac*

    Nope, just do not engage with this guy, these people thrive on drama.

    My previous company had someone like that. Was hired by my former boss (who had flaws, but was decent enough) and she wrote up a huge complaint about how he was toxic and other unspecified grumblings. Company investigated, found nothing wrong, but decided to transfer to a different team since it was a personality mishmash. A few months later, she wrote up another complaint about how another coworker was mean to her. And so company investigated, found nothing wrong, but agreed to make sure those two coworkers never had to work together. A few months later she wrote another complaint and then finally quit.

    You can’t reason with these people or make them happy.

  23. Certaintroublemaker*

    This reminds me of a situation I had with a boss. She and I had always worked well together. We had hired someone new on the team. I got along with him okay; he wasn’t my favorite person but he seemed fine. Over time, my boss became more temperamental. She started snapping at him in meetings, and I could see that maybe he wasn’t taking her feedback on board, but it seemed nasty. Then she started snapping at the rest of us in meetings. I’m a super laid back person who doesn’t get fazed by much, but I ended up going to a counseling session with our EAP because I felt like I was going to explode.

    He ended up “resigning” and went to lunch with me on his last day where he took off his filters and I discovered he was in a really unsteady mental state. And I later found that my boss had been trying to coach him for MONTHS and had ended up putting him on a PIP. But he had just not been able to work as she needed him to, and I completely understood. Even though she had rightly been keeping his issues discreet, her frustration with him had boiled over and leaked out in ways that impacted the rest of us in a really noticeable way “out of nowhere.” Luckily, boss went back to normal after he was gone.

    LW really needs to make sure she is level-headed, supportive, etc. with the rest of her team going forward in case her frustration has been leaking out more than she realized.

  24. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    Sometimes you need to face the reality that some people are just not going to like you and there’s nothing you can or should do about it. You had a shitty working relationship with this guy, he was bad at his job, and you admit you didn’t handle it with placid aplomb. He’s allowed to feel however he feels about that situation, as are you. You don’t need to worry about whether he has you wrong on some ontological level. He doesn’t, but also, his opinion doesn’t matter. Like, on a material level, this isn’t someone you’re working with anymore, this isn’t someone who needs to take up any space in your day-to-day. Focus on cultivating good relationships with your current staff and don’t worry about what he said, or didn’t say, to them. He’s not a credible source of information about how they feel. His goal was to get in a last word and to make it hurt. Let him have the last word, but don’t let him have the satisfaction of getting under your skin.

    And, honestly, reading between the lines a little bit: if you’re feeling ashamed of how you acted when you were frustrated, then take a step back and assess whether you need a vacation or better coping strategies or anything else that might help you out next time you’re working with someone difficult. Maybe I’m wrong, this could easily just be an issue of “I don’t like knowing that someone doesn’t like me even if I know they’re not reasonable.” But if this hits harder because you conducted yourself in a way that isn’t what you typically think of as being authentically “you,” that’s a sign to check in with yourself.

    But in any case, forget about this guy. He’s not a part of your life anymore and it is OK if someone out there in the world thinks you’re the big bad wolf. He doesn’t know you.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      ” and you admit you didn’t handle it with placid aplomb. He’s allowed to feel however he feels about that situation, as are you.”

      You have the best read. I think people are skipping over this part. If you are going to “clear the record” you need to make sure your side of the street is clean. It isn’t here, so you need to let it go.

      Not to mention that it’s much easier to clear the record when it’s something specific like “they said I didn’t train them but we did a five hour session every week.” But the complaints raised are too vague for you to clear up by just saying they are not true, OP

  25. Michelle Smith*

    My own observations and experiences with a manager are always going to trump other people’s comments about them. The exception to this is if I have seen similar behavior myself that seems like it fits. For example, I believed my coworker who said my then-manager screamed at her over nothing because I knew from my prior experiences with that manager that she was a vindictive, petty, and rude person and that my coworker was very mild mannered and never, ever raised her voice at work for any reason over the past 4 years.

    My point is that you really don’t have anything to worry about if you’ve been a decent person and a competent manager with your remaining employees. You just need to keep doing that and they will file the information from former employee away as an aberration, exaggeration, or falsehood. However, if they’ve seen you lose your temper, you’re going to have to rebuild that trust with your team over time by demonstrating you’re not the kind of person that does that kind of thing anymore.

  26. Clawdel*

    I had an entry level employee send a four-page, handwritten letter to my supervisors complaining about a multitude of grievances and one of them was my “communication style”. I didn’t read it. My coworkers some how got a hold of it, made copies, did a dramatic reading, and laughed, knowing how much of a problem employee he was. My supervisors told me that they didn’t take it seriously, but if he shows up in my workplace to notify my branch manager and shelter in the back offices. Showing up every day, treating people the way you want to be treated, and being professional speaks louder than any crank letter. And yes, be as stable, even keeled, and non-reactive as possible. When you yell or lose control, you lose power in the workplace.

  27. Chrisssss*

    If you really must, you can write an answer to his email, and then either keep it to yourself or delete it/throw it away/burn it/whatever.

    It’s also difficult for me to let go. What helps me to some degree is to remind myself his behavious is about him, not me. Also, instead of not trying to think about bad situations or people, what works best for me is to set a limit for negative thoughts. So when it pops up in my head in an inconvenient time, I remind myself to think about later or tomorrow at a certain time.
    If this applies to your situation, maybe you want to try it out.

  28. Tiger Snake*

    “The Lady Doth Protest Too Much” comes to mind.

    OP, I think maybe you’re still in a bad headspace when it comes to this former employee. Anyway you slice it, I think speaking up gives me that you’re more focused on getting the last word than simply moving on and doing better.

    Being the bigger person is never satisfying. Our monkey brain wants to be the one who shouts loudest.

    But you still need to be the bigger person. The loud monkey gets all the other monkeys’ attention, but he also gets the leopard’s attention. Following the urge to get the last word just reinforces the bad dynamic, and it means you’re giving your ex-employee power over you and your relationship with your current staff.

  29. Best Regards, T*

    Being in leadership can be a vulnerable job, but even if it seems like he got the last word, the reality is that you won and he did you a favor.

    Be willing to be the villain, reflect on any possible kernel of truth, make peace with the fact that he may remain disgruntled, and know that’s OK. If you can self-reflect and learn from this, it will ultimately make you a better leader, and you can thank him (in your mind) for exposing your skill gaps and challenging you to grow. We all want to be heard and understood, but seek validation elsewhere.

  30. Raida*

    “He doesn’t know me! I’m not angry!”

    well, he said he spoke to other staff and concluded you’re angry.

    So, talk to your staff, get feedback on the culture. Maybe he’s full of it, maybe you can’t see issues and you’ll get some value out of his employment.

    Also, in the future don’t keep someone on for six months – three months probation, they can’t get up to standard, let them go. It’s customer service, you can’t afford to waste time and get unhappy customers.

  31. coffee*

    It’s a bit like the tweet format that goes something like “My I’m not angry or unhappy shirt is raising a lot of questions already answered by the shirt”. Engaging with this guy is only going to give his argument more weight.

  32. Nina Bee*

    Sounds like the ex-employee is doing a whole lot of projecting and deflecting to make up for his faults, which he must on some deep level know he has. I’ve dealt with people like this a lot, who attack you to make themselves feel better.

  33. Zee*

    We had someone on my team get fired who was a terrible employee. If he contacted any of us about his manager (my peer) or our director (my boss; small team, so she still knows the handful of indirect reports very well) to badmouth them, the rest of us would just roll our eyes and laugh about it to each other, because we all know that those people are solid and he was not. So, if you have a good relationship with the rest of your team, I wouldn’t worry about it.

  34. Chelsea*

    Alison, I really appreciate your response here. I had a horrible manager that was angry and hostile towards me, and I later found out towards others as well (you actually did a podcast on my issue!) and I bet she would have said the same thing as the OP here. I expected your response to take OP’s side, but you were honest that it sounds like OP probably was angry and hostile. Really great response.

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