Sooner or later you're probably going to be accused of doing something wrong, even though you're completely innocent. This was one of the more frustrating aspects of being a part of management because, as it turns out, it's nearly impossible to prove you didn't do what someone else has claimed, and people as a rule seem to be predisposed to swallow wild, preposterous claims, especially when they point the finger at managers.
In fact, often times the louder and more frequently you proclaim your innocence, the more "smoke" you generate, leading observers to conclude that "where there's smoke, there's fire." Or, in other words, they are more inclined to judge you as guilty.
So what can you do?
If you can answer the false claims with facts and logic, you must somehow try to address them. Silence also looks a lot like an admission of guilt. Sometimes this isn't an option (due to lack of a sensible story, too much complexity, or a need for confidentiality). Even where it is possible, you must be clever as to how you rebut.
Let your public statements be quite limited on the subject of the accusation. Perhaps you can address it by saying something like: "I know that my colleague has claimed I took kickbacks from supplier X when we were working on the ABC project. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you think about it logically, supplier X did a great job on the project, and the last thing they needed to do was to pay me anything. Let me assure you that I would never, ever personally take advantage of any supplier regardless of their performance on a project." This statement, spoken to the masses a single time, would be plenty.
Behind-the-scenes actions are a different matter. You need to put all possible ammunition into the hands of your friends and allies. This would certainly include factual and logical errors in the accusation, as well as possible reasons your accuser might be motivated to do what she's doing. And if you're an adept politician, it could even include counter-accusations, but be very careful with this as it can easily completely muddy the waters, and get you just as dirty as your opponent.
Of course, I've had this kind of thing happen several times during my career.
In one instance, an employee accused me of "cruel and unprofessional treatment" when I played a practical joke on him -- one where he was left a bit uncomfortable for approximately five seconds. The incident did really occur, but was massively blown out of proportion in his recounting. Initially, I tried to aggressively counter the accusation. Ultimately, I decided that since the incident did occur, I was accomplishing nothing by trying to communicate the true sense of what really happened. And as the circumstances were really not all that juicy, the half-life on this story was pretty short.
In another instance, an employee circulated a rumour that I was being paid a bonus by the company every time I laid off employees. That one I did pounce on, and addressed openly in a public forum. I picked this route because the accusation was so absurd that I didn't think many people would fall for it. That being said, I didn't belabor the point. And I did work my allies and friends behind the scenes, painting a more complete picture of how silly the story was. This particular accusation also didn't persist for long.
In my final example, I was not directly accused, but rather one of several possible "candidates." The accuser said "a senior manager" was on the "inside" of illegal activity going on in the company. The accuser didn't take his story public, but a group of five or six of us eyed one another somewhat nervously, each wondering who, if anyone, might be guilty. In that case, I decided to meet the accuser head-on, calling his bluff and inviting him to present his "evidence." That ended up being the end of the accusation, as nothing further was ever revealed.
Each case of accusation of wrongdoing is a little different, and in order to counter it effectively, you need to tailor your response to the circumstances. And, of course, you really do need to be personally innocent. And while there are often multiple options to counter these "tall tales," none is likely to give you the complete vindication you're looking for. Proving innocence is tricky, and often proves to be an impossible proposition. 13.4
Other Recent Posts:
- When in Doubt, Cut it Out
- Comply, Or Else
- Running to Mom (or Dad)
- Me and my Big Mouth, er, I Mean Email
If you are intriqued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out my other writing.
Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS
Novels: LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, DELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013)-- note, the ebook version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time at Amazon for $4.99.
These novels are all based on extensions of my experiences as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.