White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci has only had the job for less than a week, but he’s already making public enemies.
After his government financial disclosure form appeared on Politico on Wednesday, Scaramucci didn’t think the information was public knowledge, as Politico had reported. He immediately believed that the information must have been leaked and he vowed to find the leaker that night.
Scaramucci already had an idea of who it might be—though no apparent proof—and he went public with his speculation.
Scaramucci's now deleted tweet publicly accusing his superior at work of committing "a felony." pic.twitter.com/Y8Bn6VsQ1y
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) July 27, 2017
In a since-deleted tweet, Scaramucci said that he would be contacting federal authorities —specifically the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice— to find the leaker and included the Twitter handle of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza confirmed that Scaramucci meant to imply that Priebus was involved.
In case there's any ambiguity in his tweet I can confirm that Scaramucci wants the FBI to investigate Reince for leaking.
— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) July 27, 2017
Scaramucci has previously said that he and Priebus “have been personal friends for six years” who are “a little bit like brothers, where we rough each other up a little, which is totally normal for brothers.” But this latest public dispute appears to be more than a brotherly spat. Scaramucci later clarified that his tweet wasn’t a direct attack at Priebus, but a “public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm [senior administration] officials are helping to end illegal leaks.”
But he also ended that clarifying tweet by once more including the Twitter handle of Priebus.
Wrong! Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince45 pic.twitter.com/AB0reseuX1
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 27, 2017
There’s lots to unpack here about Scaramucci’s tweet and subsequent press tour. Whether you’re a public servant to the U.S. government or an office worker, here are a few takeaways on how not to handle interpersonal conflict at work.
1. Don’t @ the FBI
This should go without saying, but please explore ways to solve your conflict without involving federal law enforcement. Start lower, like with maybe your manager or human resources.
2. Don’t take it public
People loathe being publicly humiliated, and it’s a good way to make a permanent enemy. Tweeting at your superior in a negative post is like CC’ing your boss in an email insulting them. Not only is it extremely unprofessional to air your dirty laundry in public, it also sows conflict, confusion and chaos among your staff.
According to some journalists, however, that may be exactly Scaramucci’s goal.
It creates drama and excitement, a show to watch. And it sets the stage for Priebus to have to swing back hard, or have Trump see weakness.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) July 27, 2017
Some in White House are trying to build a case that Priebus is a leaker — “a diagram” charting leaks, per senior official — to show Trump.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) July 27, 2017
3. Don’t make accusations without proof
Whatever your chosen method of distribution for your grievances — whether it is social media (bad idea) or a private conversation — be responsible about your words. Don’t air your heated suspicions about your colleague unless you can back them up with more than a hunch. When you get the proof and can show the result, then you go to higher powers.
So far, it’s unclear if the release of Scaramucci’s disclosure forms was actually illegal. Politico said it obtained the documents because it was “publicly available upon request.” Under federal law, it’s okay to request to read such a report 30 days after it’s been filed. That forced Scaramucci to delete his explosive tweet, which made him look confused and unreliable.
Mooch just deleted this tweet – because he asked FBI, on Twitter, to investigate "leak" of a public document: pic.twitter.com/cIvPW1RwrE
— Tim O'Brien (@TimOBrien) July 27, 2017
The big takeaway? Don’t make accusations you can’t back up. It hurts your reputation and opens you up to contempt, much like the fierce public mockery Scaramucci has faced since waging his war against Priebus.
4. Don’t make it personal
Scaramucci’s subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at Priebus go beyond attacks on his colleague’s ability to do his job. They are direct attacks on Priebus’ character. The day after he implied Priebus was a felon, Scaramucci let the accusation hang without clearing it up.
“When I put out a tweet and I put Reince’s name in a tweet, they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are,” Scaramucci said in a CNN interview Thursday. “So if Reince wants to explain he’s not a leaker, let him do that. But let me tell you about myself. I’m a straight shooter and I’ll go right to the heart of the matter.”
Implying that Reince is not a “straight shooter” is not a ringing endorsement of Priebus’s character, and it makes an already messy situation messier and uglier. Appealing to the court of public opinion should be a last resort. Internal mediation between you and the co-worker causing you conflict should always come first.
What’s the penalty if you don’t follow these steps? Reputational harm. Scaramucci, after only one week in the job — and still without official clearance — has made his public image about infighting and treachery towards a colleague, rather than representing the President’s position. Members of the media openly called his comments among the craziest they had ever seen in politics. Projecting insecurity and instability generally won’t help you get your point across or get bigger assignments. Learning how to handle conflict calmly and effectively will go much further.