Co-Worker Repeated What I Said–What Now?

Question:

I’ve been working at this new place for about four months already and I’ve pretty much gotten the hang of it. I work with this other girl that has helped me and taught me many things. We talk sometimes about things that are going on in our life (problems,family, friends, etc) One day we were talking and she asked me how much I was getting paid. I knew I was being paid more then her but I felt bad and I didn’t want to be like…”Oh, I can’t tell you”. So I dropped the amount a few bucks and I told her less but still it was more than her.

She was furious but she told me she wouldn’t say anything because it could get me in trouble. Well last week my boss calls me to his office and sat me down and asked me why I told her how much I was getting paid. I explained the whole situation and he was a bit mad. As soon as I walked out of there I was furious. I felt like she could have LEAST told me she was going to tell them so I wouldn’t have been surprised like that. I know I shouldn’t have told her to begin with but now I feel like I can’t trust her and we’re suppose to be working like a team. WHAT SHOULD I DO???

Signed,

Angry and Feeling Betrayed


Answer:

Dear Angry and Feeling Betrayed:

You’ve encountered one of those situations that can create a lot of stress at work, but that can be used to show your character. You’ve handled it fairly well so far. Now you want to be sure to show your value and your maturity. Let me share some thoughts and see if you can use them to help you develop a plan of action.

1. Your first concern should be how you are viewed by your boss and anyone else your boss has discussed this with. Some employees who have a situation like this withdraw or feel so prickly about it, they don’t show their best self. Focus on doing your work very well and presenting yourself in the best possible way. If there was any room for improvement before, correct that now.

If you have access to email for your boss, use it for a final message about this. If not, talk to him in person. You don’t want to over-do it, and you want to move on, so just make it brief. Say something like, “Mr. Smith (Or Dan, according to how you communicate with him), I’ve been really concerned about the situation involving my comments to Lisa. I want to tell you again that I’m sorry my actions caused a problem. I learned a lot from that experience and I promise nothing like that will happen again.”

He may say one or two more chiding remarks, but you can bet he will feel more positively about the fact that you came to him and reiterated your concern. He’ll probably share it with anyone who is aware of the problem. If you’ve already talked to him several times about it, you probably shouldn’t do it again. But, if you haven’t had a chance to close the situation with him, do so.

You haven’t been there long and you are still learning about the culture. Your boss knows that. If you have been an honest, fair and hard working employee, that is known as well. You’ll have plenty of chances to wipe this from your boss’s mind.

2. That leaves how you want to deal with your co-worker. Don’t be too tough on her. Her loyalty is to herself and her paycheck, not to you–even though she may like you and not want to cause you any harm. She probably regrets saying anything, but on the other hand, you can see how she would have been very, very tempted. If you haven’t talked to her about it, do so. Get it out in the open in a way that isn’t confrontational. Remember that you have been helped by her a lot in the past, and she will be a great resource in the future. Also remember that she might once again quote you to your boss, so you want to ensure she has very little to quote. For example, you don’t want to make an issue of “I got in trouble!” She might go to the boss to explain the story again, and make it sound as though you were complaining. Your goal is to get this closed, not keep it open!

Consider something like this, “Hey, Lisa, Dan told me you talked to him about your salary. Next time you’re going to quote me like that, give me some warning, OK? I was really blind-sided.” Give her a chance to apologize or explain it. Then wrap it up with something like, “Well, whatever happened, I want to put it behind me and move on. So, can I help you with that project?”

Don’t turn the conversation into complaints about the company, the boss or any other aspect of the inequity between your salaries. If she attempts to do that, change the subject or move away. You can tell her that you enjoy her friendship too much to get into an argument that might cause bad feelings, or something similar. that might help explain why you don’t want to discuss it.

If she reacts to your remarks in a hostile way, you will at least know her feelings! Still, stay pleasant and say that you don’t want to have bad feelings.

3. Friends often do ill-judged things. Just as you want your boss to look at the totality of the situation as it relates to you, give that courtesy to your co-worker. Let her live this down and move forward with your work together. Now you know that she sometimes handles emotional issues in ways that create problems, so you will want to be very careful about discussing secrets, sensitive topics, or things you wouldn’t want to have repeated. But, that is a good idea anyway.

I never liked feeling that I was so connected to a co-worker that we were inseparable, or that others saw us as confidantes. Stick to a good business working relationship, with a few personal conversations now and then.

Remember, it’s not your fault that your salary is different. You may have different experiences, education or training, or simply have been hired at a time when the extra salary was viewed as necessary to attract employees. Your goal it to earn every penny you make! Keep that focus and don’t get involved with your co-worker’s concerns about it.

4. Finally, look at the big picture of how long you have worked there and how long you intend to work there. This is just a little bump in the road that you regret, but that won’t cause great harm if it is handled the right way. Use it as a time to evaluate friendships, strengthen ties with your boss, establish yourself as a mature, dependable employee, and take a leadership role with your co-worker and others, as it relates to handling conflict and workplace communication problems.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops with this. Best wishes!

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.