Q: “In my previous job, I basically committed career suicide. I gossiped, backstabbed and yelled at important people. I assumed my co-workers were out to get me, even though I had no proof. I eventually realized that I was creating my own problems, but changing was difficult as long as I was in the same environment.
“After finding my present job three years ago, I worked hard to avoid conflicts, improve my behavior and become more politically astute. Unfortunately, however, one of my former colleagues has now joined our staff, and I'm afraid she will tell people about my past. Should I go to her and make amends or just wait and see what happens?” Reformed Jerk
A: First, let's give you a hearty round of applause for taking a long, hard look at yourself and making some difficult changes. Very few people manage to be that objective about their own behavior.
Regarding your former co-worker, I don’t think you have much to worry about. After experiencing the "new you" for three years, your current colleagues are unlikely to put much stock in ancient gossip. Nevertheless, if the two of you have a history of conflicts, you should invite her to join you in making a fresh start.
For example: "When we worked together before, I know that I was not a very nice co-worker. However, in the past three years, I have really made an effort to become a better person and a more helpful colleague. My hope is that we can have a good working relationship this time around."
After that, make every effort to live up to your words. If this co-worker is equally mature, your rocky past will soon be forgotten.
Sometimes we have to have difficult conversations. Here’s how to handle them: How to Talk about Tough Topics.
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