Agency Founder Twists!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about malicious gossip:

I work for and run a Division of a Non Profit Group and have developed a pretty good friendship with its Founder. Or so I had thought. I brought in my Best friend of over 15 years to assist our organization, and as a result, she has also developed a decent friendship with the Founder.

It was recently brought to my attention from my Best Friend that the founder has been twisting things I have said, maliciously taken statements out of context, and told my friend that I have been talking behind her back and making remarks that demean, degrade, or just plain insult her. None of which is true. The Founder then tells my friend that she is not “trying to hurt her, but “just thought she should know” and instructs her not to mention it to me. The Founder has remarked that I am her best friend, but she doesn’t understand why my long-standing friend puts up with me as a friend if I am treating her this way! For the life of me, I cannot understand what her motive for doing this could be! Is she jealous of the long friendship we have?

In the mean time, I have commented in passing to the Founder that I am concerned for my friend, as she has seemed “distracted” or “depressed” lately. Knowing all the while what she has been doing, she just comments that she has noticed too. My Friend is not a wimp, per say, but she is fragile, and sensitive to confrontation, and pretty much has been sitting with this on her shoulders until she finally just spilled out all of this to me…She just felt so betrayed by me…. even though this person was plain out lying to her! I feel bad because my friend has been carrying this around, and letting it eat away at her for a little while now, as she didn’t want to betray the Founder’s confidence, but at the same time she didn’t believe that I would be doing that to her… I would also like to add that I, Personally, have been dealing with some pretty serious health issues, that the Founder is well aware of, but yet she has been creating this drama, that she’d have to know would effect me in a negative way.

I love the job I do, and I fully believe in the cause we support…. But I do not know how to handle this situation. I want to find a solution that stops this, and protects the friendships involved…. How do I respectfully tell the Founder (Boss) to stop twisting my words around…? I have no way to protect myself from her, as the most innocent of situations have been twisted to hurt my friend! Can you suggest a possible solution to this problem?

Signed, Stressed

Dear Stressed:

It sounds as though you are in a situation that will best be handled by stepping back for a moment before stepping in. Let me share some thoughts, from an outsider’s perspective, that might be useful as you decide what to do. You know the situation best, and there are probably details that you didn’t include, but it seems to me that several issues could be considered. How do you know the Founder of the group has said all of the things your friend has told you about? Or that she has said them in the hurtful way your friend mentioned? Could it be that the jealousy might be on the part of your friend rather than the Founder? Could it have something to do with her issues? And, to be blunt, your Best Friend doesn’t sound like much of a Best Friend if she allowed those things to be said to her without confronting the Founder and saying, “I don’t think Julie would say something like that! I’m going to go ask her about it!!” Instead she kept it to herself, continuing to listen to the remarks she says the Founder made, but never telling you about it until after it had gone on for a while. And, your friend knows you’re not feeling well, so why tell you this now?

I recall the old adage: It takes two people to break your heart. An enemy to say something bad about you behind your back and a friend to make sure you hear about it. What good did it do for her to tell you, if she never supported you? On the other hand, I wonder why you would tell the Founder that your friend is acting depressed, believing that the Founder might twist your comments. And if you think your friend is depressed acting, the concern ought to be to get resources for her. She sounds like she could use something to strengthen her emotionally and mentally.This is an awkward situation, but also very preventable if your friend would have had more courage and loyalty in the first place. You may be right that your boss is not telling the truth about things, but you may find out there is some untruth in several areas! It would seem to me that things were going fine until the triangle of friendship became an issue. That sounds like a junior high situation rather than an adult working situation. So, that brings you to the issue of what to do about it all. The Founder might have been a friend, but more than that, she’s your employer. You can either talk to her about it, live with the concern and doubt, stay and focus on work and limit the friendship aspect, stay and make a pact with your friend to stand together and ignore the remarks of the Founder, or leave. If you leave, it may be your friend will stay–and that would present some issues for your friendship as well!

But, wouldn’t you like to know the truth about all of this? The only way will be to get it out in the open. It will be difficult and uncomfortable, but it needs to be done. One way is to write it. Write a memo to your boss and say that your primary purpose for writing is to find out if there are hard feelings in some area. You will need to say what you have been told, but she will obviously figure out anyway that your friend is the source of the information. Tell her that you’ll meet with her about it, but you felt so uncomfortable that you could only write it to begin with. OR, you could talk to her about it right up front. Whatever method you choose, you need to hear her side of this story. If she denies it, ask to have your friend come in and let the two of them talk it out–it’s between them at that point. If she admits it, she may maintain she quoted you correctly. At least then you’ll know what you’re dealing with. She may apologize for misquoting you. She may say your friend was the one making remarks, not her. You’ll need to be prepared for several possibilities. What do you want out of this? If you only want the remarks to stop, that might be easy to achieve. If you want things to go back to where they were with the friendships of all of you that likely won’t happen. You’ll need to decide what would be tolerable for you and what would not. I hope these perspectives will help you decide what action to take next. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this develops.Think WEGO and pretend that you owned the place. Then voice yor thinking.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.