An Affair Rumor in Workplace

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about spreading rumors that your boss got fired because he and you had an affair:

What do you do about people spreading rumors that your boss got fired because he and you had an affair? Not true. I have never had an affair. My boss quit because he took another job.I would never do something like that. I have worked hard in my job and have respect for husband and myself. My husband and I have been together for 13 years. I am not that type of person and do not believe in affairs. I care about what people say and I don’t do anything to deserve rumors about me.

Signed, Not That Kind

Dear Not That Kind:

Most people like small talk, especially gossip about the sins of others. Such folks gain attention by gossiping about the misdeeds or suspected misdeeds of others. Why? Possibly because they are jealous of those they target, are bored with their own uninteresting lives, find their jobs less than satisfying, lack self esteem, voice suppressed desires of their own, etc. etc. Those individual who delight in putting you in a bad light seem to be saying, “Look at her. She has been sleeping around. That’s why the boss favors her. Watch how she walks and baby talks. She’s not OK, but I am OK.” Can you stop this rumor?

Probably not completely, but it will pass. Those who gossip will find someone else to put down or something different complain about. What might you do? Here are some options: 1. The next time you hear such a rumor, ask who said that and coolly say, “Those who spread false rumors can be sued for slander. Please tell who ever told you that lie that includes her/him.” And/or say, “I’m sorry that anyone would spread lies. Why do you think they have said that about me? I would appreciate your help in squelching such talk. I’m sure you wouldn’t want anyone to say such things about you. Will you speak up in my behalf?” Or say, “What evidence does anyone have to say such a thing? No one should smear me without firm proof. Tell me who is spreading that lie and I will tell them where to go.”

2. Speak to your supervisor and asked her/him to inform anyone who spreads rumors, especially false ones, is harming work group productivity and morale. Insist that it should stop and those found guilty will be downgraded in their evaluation.

3. Take time out to reflect on possible reasons why you are so targeted. Might there have been things the boss or you said or did that served as bait for gossip. Look in the mirror and consider this a learning experience; one that will help you prevent words or acts in the future that might be misperceived. Reflect on your role within your work group. Have you cultivated a friendly relationship with one, two or some other coworkers? If not, why not? How do others see you with respect to job competence, commitment, friendliness, and communicativeness? Consider your own do and don’t rules about coworker relations. For example: Are you seen as a team member who cheers others along, who does what can be done to make any others’ jobs easier and more effective, one who avoids complaining, one who thinks of ways to delight internal and/or external customers.

4. Think beyond your immediate obsession with rumors. Your hurt and indignation will pass if and when you focus on cutting wasted supplies, time, and effort and on innovation. Review some of the many Q&As about gossip in our archives. Weigh our thoughts, even debate them, and take time to put these unhappy rumors in perspective. How do they compare with the real problems of suffering people around this world? Or in your little circle, such as the disabled who need a helping hand, or someone with sickness in the family. In short, focus on what really matters–possibly on your husband, and then get back to us with what you elect to do and how it works. OK? My signature is meant to provoke thought: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden