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TL;DR: I lied to a co-worker in an email by removing content from emails that I forwarded. Looking to find a path to regaining their trust. How do I continue to work in close proximity, whilst there is this uncomfortable tension?

A senior colleague asked me if I had ignored the software release procedures, in a recent project I had worked on. The procedures related to the deployment of our software products for internal clients. I initially told him that I had followed procedure, but after reviewing my old emails, I realized that I had sent out uncontrolled/untested prerelease versions of the software multiple times. This is not an uncommon occurrence at the company, but given my role, I should have known better. My initial reaction was one of embarrassment; how could I fail to remember something so recent.

I wanted to be forthcoming about my mistake, but I was still feeling shame for having been so confident in my incorrect answer. I sent him an email, showing him the last instance in which I had failed to follow the release procedure, but I choose to redact all of the previous instances from the email chain. I realize that this is equivalent to lying.

It was not long before they had realized what I had done. I justified my not following release procedures by stating it was necessary to get quick feedback on feature development, and that the users were aware it was prerelease. I have no justification for redacting further evidence from the email chain. Needless to say, I didn't feel too great for the remainder of the day.

The correct course of action is for me to formally apologize to my colleagues. I plan to do so. I also realize that I am entirely in the wrong here. However, even in the best scenario, I cannot see a path to regaining their trust. I do not deal with conflict/tense situations well, so continuing to work in close proximity will be challenging, especially since that project is ongoing.


For those that want to know how this played out:

Returning to work the following week, I decided to clear the air immediately and apologies. To my surprise, my senior colleagues also apologised for not having clarified the work procedures both within and external to the team. It was decided that we should present our working processes to those outside the team and to clarify our release procedures. Makes me glad to work alongside people who are focus on improvement and progress as opposed to playing the blame game.

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    I am confused, have you made a mistake or have you lied? The former is a mistake, accident which can and does happen to anyone, the latter is intentional. – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 11 '20 at 20:13
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    @TymoteuszPaul Initially I made a mistake (misremembering that I had not followed procedure), after which I lied about the mistake (I removed the mistake question tag, could be misleading). – M.A Sep 11 '20 at 20:15
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    @JoeStrazzere I have made another attempted to clarify the question. – M.A Sep 11 '20 at 21:01
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    @JoelEtherton You misread that; the TLDR is shortening the sentences: "I lied to a coworker in an email. I am now looking to find a path to regain their trust." – Joe Sep 11 '20 at 22:40
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    On my first answer I completely missed a point on the question. Made an edit to make it clearer what OP is trying to convey happened. – DarkCygnus Sep 11 '20 at 23:30
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How do I continue to work in close proximity, whilst there is this uncomfortable tension?

First, you'll have to accept that things will be uncomfortable for a while. This will be harder if you're new because your co-worker won't know whether this is out of character for you or not. There really isn't anything you can do about it directly beyond the apology. If you behave normally and professionally, you should find that you can continue to work together even if it doesn't feel great for a while.

The best apologies:

  • Admit wrongdoing.
  • Are clear about what you're apologizing for.
  • Include a promise not to repeat the offense.
  • Include an explanation of how you plan not to repeat the offense.
    (When apologizing to someone you're going to continue to come into contact with.)

You're apologizing for both not following procedures and for being dishonest about the extent of it. You can address not following procedures by following them from now on. It'll be important to do this even when you feel an exception is justified if you don't want people to think your apology is insincere. (Later, when you've got some trust back, you might be able to ask for an exception to the rules ahead of time but you'll probably be better off explaining the problem and asking for help than proposing going against procedure up front.)

You address dishonestly by being honest from now on. If you can find ways to be more transparent about what you're doing, that may help, but proving you're honest just takes time.

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When you are wrong, admit it. In public, if needed. You don't have to sound tragic when saying that. Don't break into tears. People make mistakes, everyone does. Not everyone has courage to admit they did it wrong. Learn and move on. People will respect you more.

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