Caught In The Middle

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about asking personal questions: I feel that gossip and bullying is pretty bad at my workplace. I was trying to stop the cycle and now I’m the bad guy.

There was a situation at work recently where I was put in an awkward situation. A coworker and I had been carpooling to work a few times – and starting to become friends. This particular coworker arrived to work with an injury and two other coworkers approached me asking how close I was to her and if I thought she was being abused, depressed etc. I said I had no reason to believe that, but that I would talk to her about it.

I was torn on whether or not to say anything to this coworker because I truly did not think there was anything more going on. I ended up bringing it up to her and she got extremely upset – confronting the coworkers that had approached me (she had guessed the individuals that had come to me with concerns).

My reasons for telling her were A) I was beginning to doubt my own intuition and B) we had a coworker commit suicide recently and in that case, a lot of people gossiped and no one ever really talked to HER about concerns. I was trying to avoid a repeat of that situation. The coworker that I carpool with thanked me for telling her; however, now my other coworkers are upset with me for ‘throwing them under the bus’ so to speak. I was always taught to address specific concerns directly with the person involved and not through third parties. The two coworkers verbally attacked me, saying they’ve tried talking to people about concerns in the past, but were told off, etc, so they’ve stopped doing that. To me, it sounds like an excuse. I feel that gossip and bullying is pretty bad at my workplace. I was trying to stop the cycle and now I’m the bad guy. Was I wrong for saying something to my coworker? Should I just have kept my mouth shut?

Signed, Wrong?

Dear Wrong?:

It is past. Were you wrong? Ideally you would have insisted that those two coworkers should have spoken about their concern directly to the coworker with whom you had become friends or at least they should know she would ask and might guess who prompted you to inquire about he emotional health. But that is past and you’ve learned unfortunately the two concerned coworkers are blaming you for her guessing and confronting them. All the way around this sounds to me like petty gossip and in-fighting of teens.

Should we care about others’ emotional well being? Of course. Can we  comfort, cope with and console? Hopefully. Might we learn how to assertively spell out empathically the unwritten rules that respond to “you did” accusations? Not without voicing our displeasure; not without talk about talk. Two of the more helpful rules we might spell out when attack is:

· Not to pass on information that should be owned by the one who makes a request to speak for her/him self. If you don’t want to let the past be past, you can assertively propose to the two attacking coworkers that this is your new rule.

· Substitute problem-solving and problem-preventing for blame. Since you think that bullying by blaming and belittling is a problem within your workplace group, is now not an appropriate time to enlist a collaborative meeting on that topic, particularly in light of the suicide of a coworker? You might speak to your supervisor and Human Resources about steps that could be taken on this topic. Such as effort is not a one-stop quick-fix, but neither does it require more than collaborative discussion about symptoms, causes, and corrective measures.

A short series of sessions on this topic could be educative and preventative and be a significant memorial to the one who took her own life.Meanwhile, don’t beat up on yourself and don’t allow this topic to obscure why you are employed; and of course that is to deliver goods and/or services to internal and external customers. So make that the focus of your day and keep interpersonal matters in perspective. My co-workplace Tina Lewis Rowe has much to say on this and related topics as you might see in answers to the many questions she answers each month. Also you can click her name on our home page to access her site, for example:

My best to you as you think through what you did and might have done and then put it behind you by enlisting your work group in addressing workplace matters and side issues such as gossip and bullying. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is not just the way I close my advice giving; it is an on-going process of making our work count and our workplaces worker friendly.

William Gorden