Information Technology Dark Side

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Leave it All on the Table, before the Exit Interview

February 13th, 2007 · 5 Comments

Note: This post started out well-reasoned, but by the time it’s done, it’s a total rant. As such, it should be consumed with LARGE quantities of salt.

My first job was at Bell Helicopter, working in research & development on a couple of really cool projects. I liked my job, but I wasn’t happy with the time-in-grade philosophy behind their advancement program. I wanted to move up faster than I was, so I left and started consulting. At the exit interview with my director, I found myself complaining about aspects of my manager I had never addressed directly with her. In my mind, I was leaving it all on the table.

A decade later, I’m a little more mature. Maybe not much, but definitely more. I’ve failed enough times at enough things to have a slightly more enhanced appreciation for weakness and communication than I did at 23 (although I still want to go do donuts in the snow in my Subaru, but my wife tells me I’m not allowed to). And I’m fatter. Somehow that makes a difference.

Anyway, I’d like to recommend a different approach to “leaving it all on the table.” Don’t say ANYTHING in the exit interview about ANYONE unless you have first addressed those issues with the person involved. That doesn’t mean you leave an organization that you think sucks without saying so – just don’t say it as a parting shot. Say it as a well-intentioned party to the solution, from the position of a person who is willing and able to help make things better. Then, help make things better. If you don’t get along with someone to the point you would quit rather than work things out, don’t say anything about it. You’ve failed just as much as that person has if you have not attempted to work out your problems with them.

And I’m not talking about half-hearted attempts at reconciliation like just “trying to be nicer” to a difficult person. I’m talking about sitting down with a person, face-to-face, and saying, in some constructive way, “I don’t like working with you – I have tried everything I know to find a way to have a tolerable working relationship with you and failed. It is now at the point that I can’t try anymore – I would rather leave this company than ever work with you again.” If you haven’t had that conversation with them, don’t have it in the exit interview. It isn’t fair, and, more importantly, you are doing yourself a disservice because the truth is you aren’t leaving because of them. You’re leaving because of you.

Guess what? Wherever YOU go, that’s where YOU are. If your inability to resolve problems and improve working relationships and environments is making you unhappy at work, it won’t get any better by moving on. You’ll always have yourself right there to bring you back down.

It is better to fail miserably attempting to create healthy relationships and environments than to do nothing at all. In fact, doing the WRONG thing in such an attempt is better than doing NO thing. If you have problems at work, do something about them. Don’t just complain or walk away. Be a solver.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ndlnose // Feb 14, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    How can you tell your boss “I don’t like working with you – I have tried everything I know to find a way to have a tolerable working relationship with you and failed. It is now at the point that I can’t try anymore – I would rather leave this company than ever work with you again.” without securing a job elsewhere first? What if you have 2 kids and a wife and you’re 2 or 3 paychecks away from being in the street?

  • 2 dave // Feb 14, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Have you been spying on me? How did you know I have two kids and a wife and am perennially on the verge of financial ruin. ;->

    First things first – this is in fact a rant. It didn’t start out that way, but it’s how it ended up. As a rant, it should definitely be taken with a grain of salt.

    That said, I still think the general principle holds true – don’t say anything in the exit interview that you didn’t have the guts to say on the job. If you’re too afraid of getting fired to confront your boss, I wouldn’t do it just because you’ve landed another job. I’m not saying you SHOULD confront your boss if your relationship is so bad that such a confrontation would land you on the street. I’m saying if you don’t bring it up on the job, you shouldn’t bring it up in the exit interview. It doesn’t do any good for the company you’re leaving and it doesn’t help you either.

  • 3 Graham // Feb 24, 2007 at 11:23 am

    I definitely agree that the general principle holds true. I did notice that this was a rant when I first read it. However, just because it is a rant, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take something from it and learn from it.

    What I took from this and from some training at work, is that it is better to deal with a situation directly with the person that you are having difficult working with. Maybe that person didn’t know how you felt about the way they were handling things and you can be a part of them getting better at their job.

    However, in situations where this is not the case then you can walk away knowning that you did everything in your ability to work with the person.

    What you have to learn is how to 1) approach the situation and 2) careful selection of how you word things.

    In my line of word I deal with very difficult customers all the time. My job as a tech is to get them to calm down and to the point they are willing to work with me to resolve their issue. This requires being very diplomatic. I also have to deal with my co-workers cause I need to be able to use them at times to get the issue resolved with the customer.

    All that to say that I think if you had worded the whole conversation “I don’t like working…”, then you might never know what would happen. Be part of the solution not the problem in everything that you do. This is something that I am still very much learning.

  • 4 dave // Feb 24, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Good point Graham. One of the mistakes I make when I go on a rant is I oversimplify things. I think your comment really rounds out the post by filling in all the stuff I left out in my “enthusiasm” about this topic. Thanks! Finding a constructive way to tell the truth (as you perceive it) can be very difficult. It takes conscious effort to learn to do it well.

  • 5 GramBorder // Mar 19, 2007 at 8:51 pm


    I want to all of you know, World is mine, and yoursite good


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