The answer, unfortunately, is no.
“It reliably comes back and bites you, even if you think you’re speaking with someone who is ‘safe,’” says Meredith Haberfeld, the New York-based co-founder of Institute for Coaching.
Of course certain situations, such as exit interviews or questions from a new boss about your previous employer, are inevitable. It is possible to be honest and constructive at the same time, Haberfeld says.
1. Leave Emotions at the Door
Let the emotional aspect of the situation simmer before discussing it, says Haberfeld.
“Try as we might to be ‘professionals,’ we are also sentient beings and when our feelings are hurt, it has an impact, even in business,” she says. “Our feelings cloud our perspective, and our feedback is indisputably obscured by that.”
If the emotions aren’t cooling on their own, Haberfeld says to analyze the situation with the help of a friend or professional.
“If you notice you still feel an edge toward the place you left or are leaving, find someone to help you dismantle the story you’ve constructed about the place or the people,” she says. “This will lead you toward real insightful feedback about what worked and didn’t.”
If a question comes up in an exit interview that rubs against still raw emotions, Haberfeld says to qualify the answer by saying, "I know I’m hurt and upset, and my insights are probably not as accurate as they are going to be when I have a little distance from this."
This response, she says, shows a level of maturity that will go a long way.
2. Keep it Short
If asked a direct question by a potential employer, Haberfeld says it is best to have a concise reply already practiced.
“It should be honest, balanced positive and negative to the former employer, and brief," she says. "Practice this in advance so you can keep it simple and short.”
Sticking to this pared down response will keep the question from sticking out to your new boss. Candidates or employees who go into a full-blown rehashing of the ordeal typically come out looking worse than one who says very little.
“Most times, if you’re giving justifications or giving explanations for things that make someone else sound bad, it’s perceived that there was something negative going on that you aren’t being responsible for,” she says.
Every employer and company has some positive aspects, she reminds.
3. Vent Online, Carefully
Venting is healthy and necessary towards moving on, Haberfeld says. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, there are places to let frustrations fly.
LayOffMoveOn.com is a web site where the recently unemployed can share not only horror stories of his or her previous job, but the inspirational stories of getting past it. Chicago-based designer Jessica Lybeck founded the anonymous site after she was laid off from a part time position at an architecture firm.
“LayOffMoveOn is a blog cluster devoted to connecting people with tips to survive and thrive in this economy,” the site reads. “The conditions are tough…but DAMN we’re tougher.”
There are also generalized sites like JobVent.com that allow users to gripe by specific company or location.
Just remember that you may not be the only one scoping out these various web sites, so take a new twist on your mother's advice: If you don't have anything nice to say about someone, make sure they can't use the Internet to trace it back to you. Leave out identifying details about yourself or any specific situations, and definitely leave the names out of it. This is just a venting ground, not a place for public retribution.