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Career Advice

Friend or foe? Running into your former boss

By Joseph Cueto on September 8, 2015

You just had an extraordinarily unusual day. You took part in a one-hour team meeting that usually lasts for 15 minutes. Your team leader, who never gives a task on short notice, asked you to submit a report the next day. Your trusty laptop’s files get wiped out unexpectedly. And just when you thought things could not get any stranger, you bump into your former boss while buying your fave White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks.

So how would you respond? The same way you would when bumping into a former significant other? Would the appropriate hashtag for your surprise encounter be “#awkward”? Or will you welcome your old boss like a long-lost friend? As we've found out from a number of professionals from various industries, it all depends if you and your boss parted ways as friends — or as each other's bitter foes.

The “friend” treatment

For those who left their old boss and company in good terms, it was not even a problem.

Joy Anne Ortize, a marketing manager of a resort, said she would make the first move. “If we parted okay, then I’ll say hi. Fortunately, I left in good terms with my previous bosses."

Ardel Hernandez, a process developer and trainer apprentice for a BPO company, would even strike a conversation. “I will greet him first and introduce myself. I will let him know that I was once a part of his organization."

Joy and Pastor Isaac, a self-employed director for a management consulting firm and a former human resources director, respectively, both agree they would show their former supervisor well-deserved gratitude. “I’ll say thank [my boss] for everything that she has taught me. And also how I share the things —processes, ideas, and plans I got from her to my new workplace.” Pastor added, “If he asks about me, I would tell him that I’m okay and that I appreciate all that I learned at his company.”

Pastor adds that he would also wish his old boss well. "I would greet and exchange pleasantries. Then I would ask how the team or company is doing. Then I would wish him the best and move on."

The “foe” treatment

For those who left their their previous bosses in bad terms, it was not so easy.

Joy, if ever faced with meeting a boss she wasn’t in good terms with, said, “I won’t bother to be seen by the person. I’ll hide." Pastor adds, “I would avoid eye contact and not engage.”

If the making contact was unavoidable, Pastor would just greet his old boss and move along. "[It] actually happened to me many years ago when I met again my former boss who fired me from my executive position due to professional dislike – that’s an actual term. I just said, ‘Good afternoon, Ms. X,’ smiled, and moved on.” By remaining polite, Pastor did not give his old boss any additional reason to think that she was right in firing him.

Joy advises to be authentic. “It’s awkward if you pretend. If there is nothing to talk about, just say hi then goodbye." It pays to be civil and poised while going about your business.

Take the high road

Though seeing the old boss may bring out some buried grudges, remember the good times. No matter how you may have ended your time with your employer, there are lessons your old boss imparted to you that can aid your professional and personal growth. Instead of conjuring up memories of boss-inflicted horror stories, switch to moments when he or she was helpful to you.

Finally, remember that the best revenge is to be happy. Or better yet, know that whatever happens always works out for the best. Your life may be better now on this new path. Let it go and move forward by doing best, and succeeding, in your current job.

Do not ever burn bridges – No matter how justified the behavior may be, resist the temptation to do so. You never know when you’re going to encounter these people again.

You’ve heard from a few. Now it’s your turn. Can you share your personal experience of dealing with a former boss when the opportunity came up? Post them in the comments sections below!