The Ugly Subject of Workplace Grudges

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

In one of my favorite workplace movies “Baby Boom”, the protagonist (Diane Keaton)  — a former NYC corporate shark turned mommy entrepreneur, returns to her former workplace as a pursued client.

Initially thrilled with the prospect of selling her young company “Country Baby” (facilitated by the firm which “let her go” somewhat callously), she suddenly realizes that how she had been treated in the past was more than simply “water under the bridge”.

In fact, it was much, much more.

The legacy of that memory, was enough for her to think twice and walk away confidently from the deal. We all applauded her in that sublime movie moment, and the decision that was ultimately was the right one for her character. Yet, she had realized that the events within her former path — held more than just simple history. She held a grudge,

Yet, a workplace grudge can often lead to far less positive outcomes. This includes lasting anger, stress and a lowered ability to handle our our future work lives.

Feeling slighted or wronged in any workplace situation is painful. The realization that you have been passed over for promotion or publicly criticized in a meeting, can be difficult to laugh off. It can be a real challenge to forgive others, when we feel they have purposely acted against us. As a result, we often stay “stuck”, angry and hurt — a massive energy drain which can potentially limit us.

Sadly, the damage of holding that grudge is more likely to affect us — than those responsible for the event.

Ultimately, it is best to resolve the feelings and move on, even when this can seem nearly impossible to contemplate. So — how do we begin to let go of a workplace grudge?

A few thoughts:

  • Don’t hide. Many of us will seethe in silence —  rather than deal with the situation head on. If possible, discuss the situation directly with the individual involved. Explore their motivation, as it is important to determine if the action was carried out purposefully.
  • Re-assess your reaction. It is possible that you have misinterpreted or over-reacted to the situation. This can be very difficult to evaluate on your own. Talk with a trusted friend or mentor about the situation. They may lend a different (and needed) perspective of the event.
  • Play what “if”. What if the scenario posed itself again and the outcome was more positive? (For example, you landed a promotion the next time an opening occurred.) Could you move on and forgive? If the answer is yes, the situation may be salvageable.
  • Don’t be blinded. Bitterness has a way of spilling over to adjacent events (and other people). Try not to let one event create a “toxicity” that impedes your progress toward a valued career goal or path. Be conscious of this and contain the damage.
  • Be honest. If you feel your negative feelings cannot be tempered, it may be best to move on. Bearing a grudge has emotional and physical costs that can wear you down. Cut your losses and explore changing or departments or seek a position at another location or organization. Utilize the change as a fresh start – and don’t carry the grudge forward.

How have you ever held a workplace grudge? Did you resolve your feelings?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker.

2 thoughts on “The Ugly Subject of Workplace Grudges

  1. You can blog that again! This content seems all too familiar. I think we can all easily identify situations that create grudges. You are right. Grudges hurt you–not the other person. Great content!


  2. I’ve had people hold grudges against me for things that I had no idea at all that I had done. While they were warm to others, the chill would enter the air when it came to me no matter how friendly I tried to be with them. You give great advice if you think that someone has wronged you and you’re holding a grudge. I’d also apply some of your advice if you realize that people are holding a grudge against you! Open a conversation and lay out what’s going on. It’s worth every uncomfortable moment to move things forward on a better track or to discover that this is about as good as it’s going to get.


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