Cursing the Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctor about a boss saying she is being cursed:

My colleague told my boss that we all are cursing her (my boss) behind her back. If she said that I don’t know what she intended to say by that. We have not done it to our boss. I should know because I am my boss’s assistant. I was so shocked when my boss asked me about this. Can you advise how to handle this so that my boss can believe me?

Signed, Want To Be Believed

Dear Want To Be Believed:

I have revised what you wrote to make it clearer; however, I am not completely clear as to what has happened. I can’t know from what you wrote, to whom you refer as “my colleague” nor is it clear if your boss inquired of you if it is true that you all are cursing her behind her back. But I do sense how frustrated you are to have your boss think you and others cuss her behind her back. Can you convince her that what she thinks is untrue? I’m sure you already have declared that what she heard is false.

Should say more? Probably not, unless your boss again asks. It is better simply to do good work and be supportive of your boss. What she thought happened might have been true in part, but you can’t know everything that was said by those beyond you hearing.Apparently, something was said by someone that was not said directly to your boss. Gossip and whispers about a boss are not uncommon.

Unfortunately, some individuals vent complaints of and impressions about their boss to coworkers, friends, and/or family, rather than speak directly to their boss.As the boss’ assistant, you can’t completely prevent that; but you can set an example of what the kind of talk is acceptable and you can discourage what is not. For example coworker Jan might say to you or someone in your presence, “The boss doesn’t treat us right.” You can say, “Jan, before you complain to others or me, wouldn’t it be better to talk with the boss about what bothers you?”Your coworker Jan might reply, “If I tell her what I really think, she might fire me.” Then what might your say? You might say, “Of course I don’t know what you might say to her that would get you fired, Jan, but gossiping about her isn’t going to make things better.

Also, think about how you would feel if someone told your coworkers, “Jan doesn’t treat us right.’ Wouldn’t you rather that that person says that to your face than to complain to others without speaking to you first?”Another way you might be helpful to your boss and coworkers is to recommend to your boss that such a rumor indicates there is a need for keeping channels open. How? Setting aside a skull session in which the boss lead all in your work group to spell out do and don’t communication rules. Such a session or two establishes a way to prevent and squelch rumors and gossip. I also make clear to everyone what is appropriate within the work setting. Some small talk is ok but negative talk about coworkers and boss should be brought to them directly and if problems could not be resolved then they can be brought to the boss or the boss’s boss.More importantly talk about the kind of talk of your work group would draw attention to what is the business of your company.

The normal questions of every staff meeting then become: How well are we communicating? Were there ways we might have communicated better this past week to get our assignments done? What’s on the agenda next? You have written Ask the Workplace Doctor because true or false there was talk about talk behind your boss’ back. Saying it didn’t happen is no way to cope with that. The best way is to have more talk; more talk about how to have talk that is supportive, talk that clarifies, talk that asks and answers questions. Does this make sense? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Talk about how my signature sentence applies to your work group and you will not have time to worry about who said what about the boss or coworkers.

William Gorden