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We were in a meeting room with the client, when my Technical Manager blamed me. I quickly blamed him instead since it was actually his own fault.

Is it ethical to do this in the workplace?

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    Not ethical behavior by either of you when there's a client in the room. – PeteCon Sep 9 '16 at 17:42
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    Unless you had both agreed this approach beforehand, as @Pete says, it seems unethical behaviour from both parties. Blaming in general is unprofessional, and playing the blame game in front of a client is worse. Professionals own their mistakes, communicate honestly and work with the client to find solutions that address the problem. – Laconic Droid Sep 9 '16 at 17:45
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    What specifically was said? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 9 '16 at 17:50
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    @Lewis You may not like it, but if he's your manager then yeah, he can kinda blame you. Your job is his subordinate which means you can't be INsubordinate, which is what you were. If it turns out that he keeps correcting you in front of clients then you probably don't want to work for him. But if your'e insubordinate in front of the client, you make him look like a bad manager which (while probably true) makes the company look bad. – Chris E Sep 9 '16 at 18:19
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    @MaskedMan I am not too sure this is a useful question. For one thing, this is not an ethical question. The OP's job is on the line. If I were the manager, the OP won't complain here because he already lost his job (I am going to fire him right on the spot). – scaaahu Sep 10 '16 at 11:12
17

To each other, you're "Lewis" and "Manager". You're individuals.

But to your client, you're both the same. You're Vendor Rep 1 and Vendor Rep 2.

Don't disrespect each other in front of a client.

I agree with Philip's assessment of what I would do if I were a supplier.

But if I were your manager, I'd have to be convinced not to fire you. Never ever air your problems in front of a client. You both represent the company and the message you sent is that you're unprofessional.

Disagreeing with a coworker in front of a client is pretty bad. Correcting your own manager in front of a client (even if he's wrong) is inexcusable***. And as I think about it more, I probably would fire you because I would be too afraid that something like that would happen again.

*** The exceptions would be if that it's going to cost the company money or reputation (or other harm) if the mistake is not corrected immediately. Even then, you should be as polite and as gracious as you can when doing the correction and if possible, take him off to the side for 30 seconds and explain why he's wrong. Ultimately, the manager needs to manage though.

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    I dont agree that op is more at fault than the manager. The manager shoud not have brought op in this situation to start with. For the client, it would have been enough for him to say something like: we made a mistake, we will fix the damage and make sure that this does not happen again. – Bernhard Sep 10 '16 at 14:16
  • @Bernhard You misunderstand. I'm not assigning fault or blame. There's a saying, "Blame is for children and politicians". I'm talking about what the OP should have done and should not have done. We're only responsible for our own actions. The fact though is that the OP was insubordinate. Worse, he was insubordinate in front of a client. What the manager should/shouldn't have done is irrelevant. It's not our responsibility to manage our managers. – Chris E Sep 12 '16 at 14:45
36

The problem both you and your manager are both going to have to be worrying about pretty soon isn't whether this behaviour is "ethical" or not, but how you're going explain this incredibly unprofessional behaviour to the higher-ups in your company.

If I were in a meeting with a supplier and two employees from the supplier started playing the blame game with each other, I'd be walking straight out of the meeting and calling my commercial contact. As a client, I don't care which of you screwed up - what I want to know is how you're going to make it right, not listen to you wasting my time with your own internal bickering.

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    +1 - nothing worse than dealing with people who can't take responsibility and are more worried about not being blamed than fixing my problem. No one wants to see the dirty laundry. – user8365 Sep 9 '16 at 21:16
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    IMO, if this "blame game" was even remotely expected, this should have been discussed beforehand. I would never want a subordinate walking into a client meeting to not expect what is going to be discussed. The fact that this wasn't discussed means it wasn't expected or the manager failed in his duty. That being said, pushing back like this in front of a client is a terrible idea. – psubsee2003 Sep 9 '16 at 23:56
  • +1 - I'd be laying a whole lot of blame on the manager's feet.... as a manager, they should be FAR more tactful, particularly in front a client. – Maybe_Factor Sep 12 '16 at 5:21
8

"Is it ethical?" is the complete wrong question here. It's ethical to blame someone if it is their fault and unethical to blame if you know it isn't, but that's not your problem.

The problem - both yours and the manager's - is that it is absolutely unacceptable to blame each other in front of a client. Your manager is already badly wrong blaming you in front of a customer. That shows him to be a weak and not trustworthy manager in front of the client. In addition, if he blamed you for things that were his fault, then you have all reason to go to your manager and complain, or even go to HR and complain, after the meeting is finished and the client is gone.

You are equally or even more to blame. When you blame your manager in front of the client, it is obvious that one of you is lying. So what the client now sees that the manager is weak and not trustworthy, that he doesn't have his subordinates under control, and that at least one of the people the client is dealing with is a liar. So you more than doubled the damage done by the manager.

If this ever happens again (that is if you ever have a chance to go to a client meeting again), your job is to always, under all circumstances, support your manager while the client is present. If you think the manager wrongs you in the meeting, complain after the client is gone.

  • Thank you for explaining why ethical or not is a wrong question. – scaaahu Sep 10 '16 at 14:41
  • I got to see a Review queue request for Low Quality Posts. I am so confused. Would the person who raised the flag explain why this answer is considered low quality? Please look at other answers. Everyone has pointed out what the OP did was considered un-professional. The question is not really an ethical issue, – scaaahu Sep 10 '16 at 14:55
5

The failure of ethics on both of your parts is not that you blamed each other, but that you put saving face in front of the needs of your company.

It is highly unethical to throw anyone under a bus, worse if done before a client. Both of you were unethical in doing so. The fact that you were factually correct in it not being your fault is irrelevant to the ethics of the matter. You made the company look bad.

The ethical approach for you, would have been to end your manager's finger pointing by telling the client that you were already working on solutions and would have an update for them shortly. After that, confront the manager in private and get his reasoning. Then, if you felt it an issue that needed to be taken up with HR, do so.

The reason why you were less ethical than your boss is that he made you look bad while in confronting your manager in front of a client, you made your company look bad.

A client won't ditch a company for a bump in the road and they really don't care who at the company made the mistake. They will however ditch a company if they feel that management is ineffective and that is precisely the impression that your actions gave the client

4

"Is it ethical to do this in the workplace?" You are so far off-base that you are not even asking the right question.

If I were supervising both of you, I'd fire both of you for inflicting reputational damage to the company through your bickering in front of the client. Bickering in front of the client amounts to getting the attention of the client on you as employees and representatives of the company in just about the worst possible way.

Every time you meet with a representative of the client, this meeting becomes a moment of truth. The uppermost concern in each of your minds is doing the very best you can to represent the company as a solid, reliable partner, a vendor, a supplier, etc. to the client. And serve the client to the best of your ability. As a team. I don't think you had any of the well being of the company in mind when you and you manager were having your spat.

The conduct of both of you has inflicted heavy damage to the good name of the company and frankly, both of you have left me with no choice but to have both of you fired. For cause.

Obviously, I will have to send in another team ASAP to introduce themselves to the client and represent the company. And I will have to hope that this team will be successful at damage control. I can no longer trust either of you to represent the company. With any current or prospective client. The company hired you and paid you to represent them, not to be collateral damage for your actions.

The impression you are giving from your post is that as a professional, you are not cognizant of the impact of your actions on the company you supposedly represent, and the reason that you are not cognizant of the impact of the of your actions on the company is that you couldn't care less - There is not one word in your post that expresses concern for your company.

If somebody does you wrong, there is a time and a place to deal with the issue. In front of the client is not the right place nor the right time.

1

I think the other answers address why this was a poor reaction. I want to explain a bit more and give some advice for the future.

When you are in a client meeting and there is a problem, your manager has to be able to make the client feel comfortable that the problem is solvable and that steps are being taken to fix it.

Sometimes the easiest route to getting that client confidence back is to put the blame on some junior and then explain how there will be new processes in place to avoid a future happening.

Some managers will do this even when they know full well that it isn't the cause, but they also know that they could lose the client if the real cause is disclosed. We can debate all day about whether this is ethical, the truth is the manager is being paid to keep the client happy.

And incompetent managers need to look like competent managers to the client. So, yes, they will do pretty much anything to make it look as if something or someone else was to blame in order to keep credibility with the client. Yes, this is annoying as well, but get over it.

It is not pleasant to get blamed for something that was not your fault. It has happened to many of us in our careers. It will happen again in yours most likely. The best defense is to be such a good performer in general that even taking some blame will not cause harm to your career.

However, you need to not go to any more client meetings until you have control of your temper. You never, as a junior person, say anything that is not what the boss wants you to say when in a client meeting. You need to present a united front even if you disagree privately. If you can't do that then you are not mature enough to be in client meetings.

You are likely not aware of all the politics around the meeting and you need to follow his lead even when it means biting your tongue.

Before any future client meetings, discuss with your boss any issues that are likely to come up and find out what he wants you to say about them. Then there will be fewer surprises. ANd let's face it, if he says beforehand why he wants to pretend you are to blame, it is easier to deal with. I have taken public blame for things that were not may fault before and it has never harmed me and generally has helped me in my career as long as we both knew I was taking one for the team and not really to blame.

What you should have done when caught by surprise though is: after the meeting get the manager alone and discuss the real problem and what you should do about it.

Never correct your boss in public especially in front of a client, but do talk to him privately to make sure he understands that the issue was not something you did.

By letting him place the blame on you when both of you are aware that it was not your fault, he now owes you. Bosses tend to appreciate subordinates who take care not to make them look bad in from of clients.

Right now you screwed up massively. (Yes he was not very nice in what he did either, but you can't fix his actions only your own.) You need to apologize to your manager, tell him that you understand that what you did was unprofessional and that it will not happen again. And then don't let it happen again.

In that conversation, do not bring up anything you felt he did wrong. That is a conversation for another time. Right now the focus is on getting him to believe you will behave professionally in the future and showing resentment of his actions won't get you there.

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    The problem with "blaming a junior" is that it always sounds like a fake and insincere excuse. I certainly wouldn't want to do business with people who offer lame explanations for their failures. A little integrity goes a long way. – Laconic Droid Sep 10 '16 at 15:48
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    To me, a manager blaming a junior certainly does not come across as someone in control. Although the supplier's internal team dynamics is none of my business, I wouldn't be too impressed with a manager who cannot shield his juniors before a client (even if it was, in fact, the junior's fault). A manager represents the company "more" than a junior does in many ways, so a manager blaming a junior (or any colleague, for that matter) makes it even worse. – Masked Man Sep 10 '16 at 16:40
  • If a junior messed up, then it is the manager's fault for letting him do the job in the first place, or not supervising him properly. So the correct explanation wouldn't be "junior messed it up" but "I picked the wrong person to do the job". – gnasher729 Sep 11 '16 at 18:16
  • I agree that it is not a good long-term strategy, just that some managers think that way. If you work for one, you need to be able to handle it until you move on. – HLGEM Sep 12 '16 at 13:46

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