In a previous job, there was an employee I considered to be a pal, even a friend, who was let go for “suspicious reasons”. “Leadership” told us the employee was involved in some unethical behavior and was not a “loyal employee”. I was shocked and a bit devastated to hear this news because I was fond of the guy and pegged him as one of the “good guys”. The chatter and gossip ensued and the word spread that this employee did the wrong things. I bought into it hook, line, and sinker. So much so, that a short time later I saw this disloyal employee at an event and gave him the cold shoulder. I wanted no part of him because of his alleged behavior.
Years later, I left the organization, providing the appropriate notice, definitely being loyal to the leadership and knowing that my contributions were appreciated. Some time later, word came back to me that another employee told someone I knew that I left “badly”. I was puzzled and confronted the person; he said that’s what “leadership” told him. It was absolutely the furthest thing from the truth. I thought it odd, but let it slide and chalked it up to a jealous former coworker making maverick statements.
That was until another solid employee left and was categorized as leaving “badly” and not “doing the right things”. I contacted the person and he couldn’t understand the rumblings and why “leadership” would make those statements. He then told me that the staff was told that I left “badly” and he couldn’t understand why I would do that. I told him, “because I didn’t.” It simultaneously clicked for him and me. When people left for better opportunity, those in charge told staff members that the departure was not optimal. We debated why they would do this, but there is only one answer – the company didn’t want anyone to think good people would leave them. It sent a bad message to those outside as well as internally. It was a clear strategy.
I was in media for a long time, and realized over the course of my tenure that you cannot believe much of what you read, hear, or see in the newspapers, radio and television. The facts are always sliced and diced and reassembled to make a very different account of what happened. If reporting was that haphazard with professionals at the helm, the rumor mills of amateurs must have even less merit.
You probably have heard that there are three sides to every story, “yours, mine and the truth.” The reality is that the truth is buried so deep under the spin that it may be impossible to ever fully uncover it. When I was in sports, I heard media outlets reporting on the team, and often chuckled how far off they were from the facts and the truth. It changed my perspective greatly when digesting information. I always question if facts are fabricated, twisted or misunderstood. Try this exercise: put ten people in a line, tell the first person a detailed story and have people individually pass along the story privately to the next person until reaching the end of the line. The story will always end up different from the original.
Recently (and many, many years later), I reached out to that employee who was categorized as “unethical” and “disloyal” and did what I should have done at the time he left – I asked him what happened. He told me a different version from what was described to us so many years before. I apologized to him, both for not giving him the opportunity, and for the cold shoulder. The funny thing was that he never felt like I gave him the cold shoulder, he just assumed I was short with him because I was busy. He probably felt this way because he never did anything wrong and had no guilt or any reason to assume I would be cold to him. I apologized just the same, and feel a whole lot better that I reached out and had the conversation with him. He is a great guy and it was my loss that I didn’t keep in touch and keep him as a friend all these years. I will not make that mistake again, and will always take into consideration all the facts and sides of a story, not just the tightly scripted ones by those with their own agenda.