Sunday, October 19, 2014

Should you help those who don't help you?

About four years ago, L.S., was considering a career change. He liked his job, but internal politics had taken their toll and, after a decade at the same job, he decided it was time to consider other options.

Once he decided what he wanted to do next, he sought the advice of friends, current and former colleagues, and others who with some experience in the field. One former colleague in particular was among those with whom he wanted to chat. She'd left their company a few years earlier and had successfully carved out a new career path in the field L.S. hoped to enter.

L.S. emailed this former colleague, with whom he'd been friendly when they worked together. She acknowledged receipt of his email and promised to set up a time to speak. Weeks passed, and L.S. heard nothing. He followed up with another email, and this time received no response. After a few more failed attempts to seek the woman's advice, L.S. gave up and moved on.

A few months later, L.S. was offered a new position. He's managed to make the transition well and is thriving in his new position.

There are many reasons L.S.'s former colleague might not have responded. She could have been consumed with her own work and simply did not have time. He may have misinterpreted how close they'd been when they worked together. She might not have understood how urgent L.S.'s request for help had been. Or she simply might have forgotten to respond. The right thing would have been for her to let L.S. know she didn't have time to talk.

Four years later, L.S. found himself in a curious position after receiving an email from the former colleague. She filled him in a bit on what she'd been doing for the past several years professionally, closing by telling him she was planning to apply for a position at the company where L.S. now worked. She wondered if he might consider speaking with her and writing a reference.

No mention was made in the message about her failure to respond to his request for help four years before. While she'd clearly knew where he was working, she didn't ask how his career shift had gone or how he was faring in his new job.

L.S. now wonders what is the right thing for him to do. Should he treat his former colleague as she had treated him and ignore her request for help? Should he indicate he's busy and maybe they can talk later and then never make the time?

Ultimately, the decision for L.S. proved simple. He responded by telling her he'd be glad to talk with her about her interest in his company. He knew the right thing to do was behave in the manner he wished she had four years earlier. He was right to stay true to what he deemed appropriate, rather than let his former colleague's earlier actions define his own. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 



Anonymous said...

I'd Ignore her.
Sounds like a one sides SOB.
And give her a lousy reference, if asked, to boot.
She is nobody to have around. Keep your distance.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Anonymous said...

I took the "story" as not quite so accusatory against the former friend. It appears the decision to help was "The Right Thing" to do. In this old world, I have found "getting even" only ends up hurting yourself.

Charlie Seng

Phil Clutts, Harrisburg, NC said...

It’s commendable for L.S. to forgive, but he doesn’t have to forget. I would tell her I would be glad to speak with her and that I could write a good reference, but say that it would be a better one if she had responded to my request for advice a few years earlier. If she responded with a sincere apology and good explanation, fine, I would be more generous in my recommendation. However, the fact that she didn’t even bother to ask me how I was doing professionally (or otherwise?) is a turn-off that would be reflected in my less than wholehearted endorsement of her as a future asset to the company.