I Talked About My Assistant Manager

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about talking about the boss:

If I talk about my manager at work on break to a coworker and that coworker goes back and tells the manager, can I get into trouble?

Signed, Uneasy

Dear Uneasy:

Yes. Gossip can get you in trouble. What kind of trouble? That depends on what you said and the boss-bossed relationship you have had with that manager. I assume what you said was not a compliment. A complaint about an assignment is one kind of gossip. To blame a boss of stupidity is another. To accuse a manager of misconduct short of a crime certainly hurts his/her reputation. To falsely accuse of a crime is slander. Some managers upon hearing gossip about them will store it away; others may ignore it.

The fact that you sent this question says you are worried. Intuitively you know that anything said ill of a superior could mean trouble; possible to be written up or at least to be disliked. What should you do? Apologize? Yes. Apologize even if it is true? Yes. Why not just hope you manager doesn’t believe you said it and continue to do your job as though you had not said anything? Why not, if confronted by your manager, say that your coworker was lying? Why apologize if your manager never mentions hearing anything? These are the kind of thoughts that race through your mind once you have spoken ill on another person.

I predict that you will worry and feel uneasy unless you say to your manager, “Kim, yesterday I said _____ about you to Jane. I was wrong to speak about you to her rather than to come directly to you. I am sorry. I apologize and will not do that again.” I also predict that such an apology will result in a conversation about that topic with your manager and possibly resolving what prompted you to gossip.

Ideally, a boss encourages others to bring her/him news of what’s going on about the job and discourages bringing personal gossip, other than occasional bits of good news; a birthday, winning the lottery, and learning that it isn’t cancer. Ideally, work talk is open and the focus of regular work group skull sessions. Ideally, you will tell your boss that you want him/her to coach you and your coworkers, and to have weekly skull sessions, just as do sports teams after and before a game; skull sessions in which all of you answer questions such as: What did we do this past week that deserves thanks, praise and applause? How well are we communicating? Are there ways we might work together more effectively?

Obviously, from this distance, I can’t predict what trouble might or might not result and that is not the most valuable lesson to be learned from the uneasiness you now feel? The lesson? In short, don’t gossip. If you must talk about people, talk about the affairs of celebrities. There is no shortage of that.We gossip about others’ lives for many reasons; to enjoy the feeling that others have that we know what’s going on. Other times it is to test what behaviors are not acceptable. And sometimes unconsciously our motive to gossip might to feel superior; to think I am ok and they are not. We gossip to learn about life and that’s not all bad. But talk at work about the personal life of coworkers and superiors, other than complimentary good news, should be off limits. It is a sound rule to not spread information about another person. Does that mean you should never say what you think and feel about a boss or coworker? No.

Voice your complaints up the formal channels if you can’t resolve a conflict eye to eye or if you genuinely feel you’ve been mistreated or if a coworker or boss’ behavior hurts your company.You have another problem. Should you confront your coworker to learn for sure if she/he tattled what you said to your manager? Of course that is up to you. You might want to cuss him/her out. You might want to never spill your feelings to that person again. You might want to stab that coworker in the back just as you feel you have been. My answer is: Let is drop. And from now on, don’t participate in down talk about your boss or anyone else with that or any other coworker. Do these thoughts make sense? If so, from now on think up, not down, think big not small, think kind, not mean, think WEGO not ego. Think how working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS applies to your workplace.

William Gorden