Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about talking about the boss:
An employee is very angry at my boss and she was talking about her when she is near. My boss saw me smile and shaking my head yes, when this employee spoke badly about her.I feel terrible but this employee helped me out when my boss gave me extra work. Now my boss is angry and set up the Christmas Party the day I have off. She will not talk to me on a comfortable level. I feel terrible because last year she yelled at me to respect her.
Signed, Worried and Embarrassed
Dear Worried and Embarrassed:
One viewpoint of this is that your boss seems to have not done much to gain your respect and good wishes. She certainly is not handling this in a good way if she isn’t talking to you directly but is sulking instead.Of course, the other viewpoint is that, even though that may be the case, it’s never nice to let others see us or hear us making fun of them or agreeing with someone who says something bad about them in a sly way. She is probably as hurt as she is angry.
We all have talked about someone when they aren’t present-and often that is a justifiable way to vent, get advice or merely to sympathize with each other. But, once we’re in the same room, it seems cruel or at least ineffective to say something on the side that we know they can hear, when we wouldn’t say it to his or her face. Your coworker seems not to care about the boss but also not to care about what she gets you involved with. That probably should tell you something about how much you want to align yourself with her! But, that’s done now and the question is what to do next. You don’t say what comment was made by your coworker that inspired you to smile and shake your head in agreement. You do say that the coworker has been helpful to you in the past, which is why you gave her that agreement and sympathy.
That points to something I often mention–and that will help you in this case. It takes three fundamental things to have influence with someone:
*Be credible. (Honest, trustworthy, good at your work, able to be a resource, dependable and the other things that make people feel they can trust us and depend upon us.) You have lost some credibility about whether your boss can trust you to be truthful about supporting her, but hopefully, at least in the area of your dependability about good work, you are credible.–and you can regain credibility in other ways.
*Be valuable. (Provide something to the organization or the individual that is needed.) For you, it was assistance and emotional and work support. For your boss it is probably the same way, but she always wants loyalty and respect for her role.
*Communicate effectively. (Directly, clearly, in a way that usually gets good results with the other person or people.) It’s crucial that you not let a barrier form between you and your boss or you and anyone else for that matter. Keep lines of communication open, even if you have to force them open sometimes.
Using those three qualities as the foundation for your future interactions with your boss, let me suggest some things you may want to consider doing. They will need to be adapted for your work setting but they may help you move past this awkward and worrisome experience.
1. Keep your work quality and quantity at a high level, whatever it is that your work involves. Be the go-to employee, as long as you are not being dependable in every way unless you are asked to do something inappropriate for your position. If, as happened when your boss gave you extra work, you feel you can’t do it, talk to her not to other employees. If she insists you must do it, ask her to approve having someone help you. That way the help is not from a coworker who may be doing it to encourage you to dislike your boss, but rather from the same coworker with the approval of your boss–a different feeling.
2. You know you’re going to have to apologize so get it over with. You may want to send an email, which is OK, but follow up by saying something to her in person. I know this seems like the hardest thing in the world, but it will take about thirty seconds and will be such a relief. Until you do it you’re never going to rest. Try this in the email (adjusted to fit what really happened):”Jan, for the last two weeks, since you saw me agreeing with a comment Eva made about you, I’ve felt terrible about it. It was wrong of me and I can’t even explain why I would have done it. I want to be considered a good employee and a good person. I want to be someone you and everyone else can trust. I realize what I did harmed that trust and I will do my best to regain it. I apologize for what I did and I promise it will never happen again. Sincerely, Carol.”
She may mention the email to you or respond in an email. Whether she does or not, the next time you see her in private ask briefly, “Jan, did you get my apology in the email?” If she says yes (even if she isn’t accepting of the apology) say briefly, “I meant every word of it and I’ll never do something like that again.”
3. If she is wise, she will want to talk to you about why you would have indicated agreement to a negative remark. She might even talk to you about how to improve workplace communications in general. I doubt that she will, but she should! If she does, be careful about only finding fault with what she has done. Mention how everyone needs to improve their courtesy, communication and work, to avoid this kind of thing. This may be a wake-up call to her about how she is perceived. You never know what else has been said. Keep your remarks to her brief, even if she wants to talk. Let her do the talking rather than risk talking yourself back into a problem!
4. After you do that very tough thing, move forward. Other things will take the place of this. It may seem awkward at first, but soon, if you are true to your word and are seen as valuable to her, your boss will get over her hurt feelings and behave in a more professional way herself.
5. You may not want to do this next suggestion, but if it were me I would let my coworker know I apologized to the boss. But, at the least, I would never again encourage her to say something negative about the boss in the workplace. If she starts, just say something like this: “I know you’re frustrated with her. But talking to me or anyone else doesn’t change things, it just makes it worse. Why don’t you talk to her directly?” Or, “I’ll talk to you at lunch but I don’t want to do it here in the office.”Then, if she does start talking at lunch, steer the conversation to something else. Unless she is willing to DO something she should not be talking about it so much.If she says something while the boss is standing nearby, you may need to be very direct.
Shake your head no, and don’t smile. Get up and move away. Or, immediately change the subject. Or, if that doesn’t work and she does it more than once, say, “Eva, please don’t do that. It’s really an awful thing to do.”I don’t have much sympathy with people who drag others into their fights–especially with the boss, when they know that could get you in trouble.
6. About the Christmas party: You’re so hyper-sensitive to this issue that you may be seeing the Christmas party schedule as a revenge tactic when it is not. Whether it is or not, you can’t change the schedule, but you can use the situation a bit. If your work allows such a thing, consider getting a small gift for everyone–unfragranced hand lotion, a nail file, or similar inexpensive item. Leave the little packages with a coworker and ask her to give them to people at the party. That way you will be thought of in a positive way. Or, offer to do some prep work for the party the day before you leave. That will also be a positive thing. Whatever you do, do not talk badly about the boss anymore and don’t speculate on why the party is going to be when you’re gone. If you’ve already done that, don’t do it again and change your approach to a more positive one. The bottom line on this is that you got caught up in something you want to get away from now. You can do that and have a much better feeling about work and your boss. Your boss will feel better as well. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out for you.Best wishes!
Tina Lewis Rowe