Dear Claudia,
I’m a corporate recruiter at my company, and I work closely with an HR Generalist for business hiring. I thought we had a great working relationship until a few weeks ago when another recruiter took me aside and said that the Generalist has been telling our business customers that I’m struggling in my job (of course, she denies that she said this). To make matters worse, she “forgot” to invite me to a meeting last week with an SVP to intake a new requisition, and now I’m racing to fill in the blanks with an executive who travels constantly and thinks I can’t keep my calendar straight. How would you handle this situation?

Steaming Mad

Dear Steaming,

Can I say out of the gate that this situation really sucks? Any way you look at it, the undercurrents are tricky. If you’re lucky, you might wrap this up as friends; if not, you’ll have to learn to live with a very toxic co-worker.

So let’s take a rational look at your options:

Option A: She’s innocent (we’ll start with the positive). It’s entirely possible that the Generalist really is the great person you thought she was a month ago: she didn’t malign you to others, she was either misunderstood or misquoted. And she made an honest oversight by not inviting you to the meeting with the SVP. It may sound thin – but hey, it could happen.

Option B: She’s guilty. By extension, she’s also mean, devious, and the HR-Partner-from-Hell. Maybe she really does have it in for you, wants your job, or (more likely) finds you intimidating and wants you gone. Ewww. Bad co-worker.

The truth is that until you know the truth, you’re assuming. And when you assume… well, let’s just say that assumptions can lead to things you later regret. Of course, it’s impossible to talk about assumptions without noting a basic truth about human perception:

People tend to perceive what they expect to perceive.

The CIA (always good for something fascinating) published a report a few years back that delved into this subject with gusto, where they also noted two other interesting gems about human perception:

The mind is quick to form an impression, but resistant to change it.


New information is assimilated into existing images.

It turns out that for humans, perception is an active process; it constructs reality rather than recording it. This is why we say that perception is reality for the beholder (listen up if you’re at all concerned with candidate experience and employer branding – this one is for you, too).

So where does this leave you, dear Steaming? My advice is that you set aside your assumptions to get to the truth of the situation. Ask questions to confirm you have all the information needed to either confront the situation (there’s a great formula for difficult conversations to be found here in my previous post about hairy candidates), or put it to rest and move on. If you need help in the confrontation, go up the HR chain, or (if internal politics are too funky) to a trusted and more senior manager, to mediate the conversation. I wish you good luck!

In my day job, I’m the head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage engagement for competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here.

Do you have a question you'd like answered in this weekly forum? Drop me a line!

Views: 563

Comment by Maureen Sharib on July 2, 2008 at 5:04am

Very insightful. Assumptions. One of my pet peeves! We usually get into trouble when we assume things, I sooo agree.

Loved this:
The mind is quick to form an impression, but resistant to change it.
New information is assimilated into existing images.

I thought I got the first part but the second is new to me. I'm going to think how this impacts phone sourcing - what I suspect is it goes some way towards explaining how slowly things (and perceptions) change.

Comment by Claudia Faust on July 2, 2008 at 7:40am
And the really interesting part is that all 3 statements fit together in a spiral, each strengthening the other like super glue: as we assimilate new information, an impression becomes more difficult to change in part because we begin to expect the next bits of information to support the last.

I love that you're connecting the dots into your day. Have a great one!
Comment by Amitai Givertz on July 2, 2008 at 8:18am
Can I assume you've read this: "Psychology of Intelligence Analysis?"

Great post, Claudia!
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on July 2, 2008 at 8:40am
Claudia, your comment on the CIA's report is correct, "The mind is quick to form an impression, but resistant to change it." You probably see me often including a link to Robert Mcnamara regarding his principle, "Seeing and Believing are Both Often Wrong." I only mention this documentary because some of the information was enlightening and life-changing for me - as it turns out, the 8/4 torpedo 'attack' on the USS Maddox didn't happen. The "keyed up", "overeager" sonar men saw a blip on the radar and (because of stress/apprehension) thought there was an attack . . . but there wasn't. This marked LBJ's 'formal involment' of our forces in Vietnam, where I lost 1 Uncle and I imagine many of us here lost much more. Anyway, in the clip, watch closely what happens between 2:16 - 3:16.

If I may, considering there are some RBC members that are avid readers . . . I'd like to suggest "Blink" by Malcom Gladwell. The nature of the book is about the concept of 'rapid cognition' -- the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye (at the subconscious level). Is it correct? . . . is it incorrect? . . . is it close? You may be surprised at the findings.

Well, I need to get back to work but hope that this offered some further value to the discussion and all RBC members!
Comment by Claudia Faust on July 2, 2008 at 8:54am
Thanks, Ami -- I'd be careful about those assumptions, though...

And Josh, excellent referral to "Blink." Loved that book!
Comment by Rob Clarke on July 2, 2008 at 8:54am
Awesome column, link (psychology of intelligence analysis) and feedback (thanks Josh-I am a documentary junkie, and actually saw blink at the airport- but passed over it for predictably irrational- I shall go hunt down blink now!), just another eye opening read/post- good stuff, thanks Claudia!
Comment by Dennis Smith on July 2, 2008 at 11:55am
Terrific post, Claudia! Wow, it is so difficult to set aside our assumptions, isn't it?! Excellent advice and very pertinent for one (me) who is very prone to make quick decisions when stress/apprehension are present (nice comment, Josh).
Comment by Claudia Faust on July 2, 2008 at 5:28pm
Rob and Dennis -- thanks for stopping by to add your thoughts. I won't assume that you'll come back next week, but I sure hope you do!
Comment by Dennis Smith on July 2, 2008 at 6:13pm
You just never know... : )

Loved this post....cross-posted to today and gave you all the love and credit!

Comment by Claudia Faust on July 2, 2008 at 6:30pm
Dennis, u da MAN! Thanks bigtime :))


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