"Hi Sanjay, you look quite silent today. Is everything okay?"
"No, I am fine Radhika. It's just that the work pressure is too high today. Quite a lot to deliver!"
What Sanjay could not say was that moments ago he had been part of an escalation meeting with his boss where he had been compelled to escalate against Radhika.
Sanjay is a team leader in an information technology project at a world class technology company. Radhika works in his team. While they both share a good relationship off late Sanjay had noticed Radhika absent-minded a lot at work and that had been impacting her deliverables. He had tried to make her understand but somehow it never worked.
Initially, she would discuss each and everything with Sanjay and had a great rapport with each other. But things had changed off late. Sanjay did not bother much about it. He had always had a hard time understanding women and besides, he did not think it ethical to probe into anyone's personal life even if there was a personal problem going on. He did not think it was professional. Of course if she shared on her own, that would be a different story, but here there was nothing of that sort. His end goal was getting the deliverables and there was an impact. The team had been recently downsized and he had to rely a lot on Radhika as she was a key resource.
But with her not meeting his expectations, the load was getting heavier on him.
So when questions were raised about the team's performance and scrutiny was happening, Sanjay could not hide his thoughts regarding how Radhika's recent lack of performance was impacting deliverables and leading to escalation.
His boss Mr. Ray, noted everything down.
Ray: "Okay I would discuss with her separately"
Sanjay knew that this meant it would be quite a showdown as Mr. Ray was known to be a short tempered person and the whole team literally feared his temper.
The whole day literally went smooth. Radhika seemed cheerful today, much like her older self, working diligently and delivering on time whatever was expected.
But Sanjay was worried and kind of feeling the pinch now. He knew any moment she could be called in and given a reprimand. He was wondering if he could have done without the escalation. But there was no way he could revert the time machine now!
And it happened.
Around 4 o'clock in the afternoon Radhika was summoned at the boss's chamber.
A good 30 minutes went by, before Radhika re-appeared. She came back to her desk, quietly sat down and covered her face with her hands.
Sanjay glanced at her and understood that she had been given a raw deal and it was best to leave her alone. It was apparent that tears were flowing down her eyes as her handkerchief was being frequently used.
After around an hour or so, she came to Sanjay's desk. Her eyes still red and wet and cheeks flushing.
"Can we talk for a moment, Sanjay?"
"Not here. Let's find a meeting room."
He was now wondering about what's coming up next! They found a meeting room at the end of their workspace and the two of them got in.
"Yes Radhika, tell me, what is it?"
"Why did you do this to me?"
"Do you have any idea what I have been going through in my personal and professional life?"
"No, you never told!"
"What happened Sanjay, I thought beyond the team leader and teammate terms, we were good friends? We have known each other for what, 4 years now?"
"Yes. See, I wish I did not need to do what I did, but you know, deliverables were getting impacted.. and.."
"And basically it was showing badly on your records as a team leader, so you wanted a scapegoat, right?"
Radhika started shaking her head in disbelief as more tears trickled down her face.
Sanjay could not do much apart from saying, "Look Radhika, you make me feel bad!"
"It's okay Sanjay, you have broken my trust. I looked at you as my guide, mentor, friend and... probably much more! But it's okay, I learned from you today the meaning of true professionalism! I have asked for a release from this project and will probably get it. Good luck with your future endeavours!"
She stormed out of the meeting room.
After that day, both of them had a very formal relationship till she secured her release from that project. Nothing beyond talks of assignments and deliverable.
Mr. Ray meanwhile asked for a formal feedback for Radhika that he can share with the next project manager.
Sanjay wrote in glowing terms about her and appreciated her work in the project ending it with his strong recommendation. Radhika did not know anything about it as it was kept confidential from her.
After her release, they lost touch, as she was transferred to a different city and project. None of them wished to ping the other and find out how it was going.
But Sanjay kept wondering if he had done a mistake by escalating against her. But an arrow once shot never returns to the shooter. And there was nothing he could ever do.
But he keeps wondering to this day, did he just lose her friendship or burned the bridge towards something even more beautiful?