Should I Apologize?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a big mistake caused by gossip.

I recently gossiped about a coworker and I feel horrible about it. The story may be long but it may help to get where I’m coming from. I’m an inexperienced, shy, young guy and I met a girl who caught my interest at a job I got a few months ago. My first mistake was telling a couple of my coworkers about my interest with this girl. It spread throughout my entire department and everyone made it their mission to get this girl to go out with me. I awkwardly talked to her a few times and I thought I wasn’t going to get anywhere. One day my coworker said I should message her, I did and got nervous. I asked him for advice and he took my phone and asked her out for me. She agreed to my surprise, I wouldn’t have gone out with me at that point, considering that we hardly spoke to each other. We went to a Starbucks she wanted to go to and it was not a proud moment for me. I knew I was boring, I was uncomfortable and I wanted to go home but stayed for an hour until she “had” to leave.

It was obvious she wasn’t interested but it didn’t end as bad as I thought so I asked her out a few days later. She gave me an excuse of why she couldn’t go out with me so I waited until I saw her at work. I was nervous when I talked to her and she gave me an uninviting response so I was going to leave and get over her. That little voice in my head said I was over thinking it so I waited until her shift was over. I talked to a male coworker of mine while I waited and it turns out he was waiting for the girl I was waiting for. She hurried out the door with him and I was upset. I went to work the next day and I vented to a coworker who was working her last day. I felt better but then the girl I went out with texted me saying it wasn’t going to work out between me and her.

I knew that already, I literally saw it with my own eyes. I assumed she thought I was stupid because she had to give me confirmation that I had no chance, as if it wasn’t clear enough. This made me angry and I told a few coworkers what happened, it spread throughout the first floor of the store and I’m not proud of what I did. I knew I should’ve kept it to myself, I lost my cool and I regretted it and I know that’s a poor excuse. I was my own worst critic and thought about quitting to avoid the drama I caused. I stayed because it would have looked too dramatic if I quit after that. Turns out that my coworkers were on my side; she was wrong for leading me on and they had a low opinion of her.

I never meant for that to happen, I was not trying to get people on my side or even take a side, I just blindly rage vented. A month has passed since then, I don’t see her anymore but I hear that the girl is still working at the store. I started working on myself after I told people about the situation; I was building confidence, keeping personal things to myself, to make sure I won’t do something this stupid again, and I started to make some progress last week. I was going to let this issue die out, but I feel awful. It’s awkward seeing her now significant other at work and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should apologize to her for telling people about her business or to leave it alone. People seem very uneasy towards me now and I don’t know what to do about any of this.
Signed, another f***up.

Dear Overthink,

I prefer to address you as overthink rather than as “another f***up.” Perhaps the better label for yourself is “Learning From My Mistakes” because your careful appraisal of the situation is evidence of that. Therefore there is no need that my advice be lengthy:

  • Let the past be past. Don’t allow this mistake to play like a broken record stuck on “stupid guy” “stupid guy” “stupid guy” punishing yourself again and again. Learning is an ongoing process, especially learning how to cope with feelings.
  • Don’t apologize. Leave it alone. If you two happened to have a moment in private (and that’s not likely) and she expresses her anger at you, then you can say, “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you as I have myself. I apologize for ever telling anyone I was attracted by you. I hope you can forgive me.”
  • Shift your focus to your job and your career.  The comment “People seem very uneasy towards me now” likely is more in your head than theirs. You are too focused on yourself. You are hired to do a job. Do it. What will make your performance the kind that you would want if you owned the place? How can you make your internal and external customers pleased with what you do? How can you be more efficient and effective? In your account of your gossip, you don’t ever mention your job or customers. How can you cut wasting supplies, cut wasted time, cut wasted energy, cut wasted money? How can you manage your own time better? If you focus on pleasing coworkers by making their jobs easier, they will see of you as the kind of coworker they want to have around.
  • Answer unstated questions that are in every encounter you have with a coworker or customer—Why you? Why me? Why are you here? What do you want? What good is that to me? Such questions are ones that will put what you are doing in perspective. They will also take your mind off of what you are not paid to do. I don’t know how this particular job fits into your career plans, or even if you have any plans. But I do know that as the saying goes “none of us plan to fail, but we fail because we fail to plan.” See today as one day lost if you are not gaining experience that adds information on your career path. Just as eventually finding someone you love and who will love you is an ongoing process of elimination and discovery and, so is a career path a process of elimination and discovery. Think big. Learn the costs of overhead in our workplace? Know how many are employed? What areas make it the most money? Gradually learn different aspects of the business, even if you don’t plan to stay there. Such knowledge will make you better at your job and to know when if ever to leave.
  • Treasure good feeling moments. By that I mean such things as completing an assignment, doing something well, getting to work a few minutes early, prioritizing what you do. Achieving even minor things tells us we deserve to be employed. Cheering on a coworker, helping someone with a task, showing empathy stirs within us good feeling moments. Good feeling moments add up to satisfaction with what you are doing now or if you don’t have them, you know it is time to change your behavior or move on.
  • Value talk. Talk to yourself. Make some of that good talk. Develop rules about what you will and will not talk about to coworkers (I know you have made a rule not to gossip about personal matters). Spell out rules about how to talk on topics that can make your area of work more effective. Talk about what should be on the agenda of your work group.

Do any of these thought make sense? I will be interested in what you do this week in light of them. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. And you need some wegos. They will get you off of thinking about your mistakes.

William Gorden

Follow Up:

I deeply appreciate the advice you have given me. My response has taken a little while because I wanted to wait and apply what you suggested I do at the work place. As for the work I do, I work at a retail store and the main focus of my job, along with other tasks, is to open shipments and assist customers when they come to pick up the merchandise they ordered. My job is one of the most stressful of all of the departments in the store, since I’m responsible for opening as many packages as possible so it can be displayed on the sales floor, helping customers in a timely manner, package online orders, moving heavy objects throughout the store, finding merchandise throughout the store for customers, tool repair, and compacting trash. This situation with my female coworker has been adding on to my stress for the past month. However, I like doing what I do. The people within my department, although nosy, are good people and they make the job fun. I do not plan on staying with the store though because it’s actually closing within the next couple of years. Due to that, I want to acquire as much experience as I can within the store. I was told to switch departments to gather more experience. Yesterday, I talked to the lead supervisor of the cashier department about working under her and she is willing to have me. I believe that learning how to use a cash register will help me when I apply for work at other department stores.
As for my female worker, I never see her but I hear she still works at the store. As for her now significant other, I see him regularly and it constantly reminds of the event that took place last month and it’s been hurting my work performance. You are right, I’m there to do a job and I need to do it. Within the past few days, I’ve been experiencing the more personal matters of life and I’ve already made some mistakes, but I’ve been doing good at learning from them and keeping my personal life and work life separate. There is still much more to learn though, both with work and life so I will be welcoming that with an open mind. Thank you again for your advice.
   Signed, Learning from my Mistakes