False Accusations

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about false accusation:

My superior has accused me falsely on several occasions. I proved him wrong and did so. But he still continues doing this, especially in meetings. What can do?

Signed, Falsely Blamed

Dear Falsely Blamed:

It is uncomfortable to feel a boss targets you. How did you prove him wrong? Did you prove him wrong to his own boss or to Human Resources? Did you speak to him privately or in the presence of other supervisors and/or your coworkers? Apparently, whatever you did hasn’t changed his mind about what he sees as your mistakes because he speaks openly about them in meetings. What can you do? This question raises other questions about when and how you should confront these accusations: Should you ask for a private session to deal with what you see as unjustified? And more importantly, can you prevent such accusations? Should you confront him in the meeting in which he falsely accuses you of something? If so, how should you do that?1. Should you ask for a private session to deal with what you see as unjustified? Correcting being falsely accused hinges on how well you and your boss can do what you’re hired to do and, of course, on your reputation within your work setting.

In short, both your boss and you want to be respected, and therefore, you need to deal with accusations. Misdeeds need to be spelled out, and once they are, you then should have an opportunity to admit to and apologize for those you see are accurate and to correct what you see as false. The tone of such a meeting should not turn into a “you say, I say” argument. Rather the purpose of boss-bossed meeting is to find a way to work together cooperatively. That probably would entail clarifying your job duties as to what you are and aren’t assigned to do, when and where, and with whom you are to consult and get approval. Should an accusation be serious, you might need to propose to your boss that his boss, Human Resources, and/or a union representative should be included in a private meeting. Only you can know if your boss’ accusations call for outside facilitation. 2. And more importantly, can you prevent such accusations? Preventing being accused has a lot to do with making boss-bossed communication clear and frequent. Talking about talk can help. You and your boss undoubtedly need to set times to clarify what, when and who of assignments. Possibly this might include what should be the purpose and kind of your work group meetings.

The odds are that the blame game can change to winning the next game, if you can persuade your superior to think of himself as a coach and of your work group as a team. Your meetings then would be seen as skull sessions to applaud what was well done and to correct missteps and to do things differently in order to make what happens next more successful. 3. Should you immediately confront him in a meeting in which he falsely accuses you of something? If so, how should you do that? Since you haven’t described of what he has accused you, my advice must be general for the moment you are accused. First, some don’ts: Don’t interrupt him angrily. Don’t see him as you enemy. Don’t take issue over slights to your good name. Don’t argue about your behavior. Now some dos: Do speak up if what you can say will help solve a problem or provide information important to a matter of discussion. Do say something like, “John, (or whatever is your superior’s name), you and I see that differently, we should talk about that after this meeting.” Or you might speak up to refocus on the matter at hand rather than defend yourself, “Let’s focus on what has to be decided here. What you are saying about what I did or didn’t do can be discussed later, that should not stand in the way of getting done what we are here to do. I’m here and we’re all here now because we’re committed to doing high quality work.”

I suspect that only on very rare occasions, should you voice disagreement firmly and immediately with a, “Stop that, John, I did not lie” or “John, if what I did or didn’t do is important to solving this problem or making this decision, let’s talk it through now. If not, let’s get off it.” Think though these alternative and overlapping suggestions. Finally, look in the mirror and for a few minutes see yourself as you boss sees you, both your flaws and strengths. Don’t be excessively critical of him or yourself. Things probably are not as bad as they seem and will never be as good as you would like. Most workplaces are not great places in which to work, but they never will be if we don’t do what we can to make them profitable and friendly. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and isn’t that what you want; for your workplace?

William Gorden