Should I Ask?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gossip: The person, who went to the supervisor to complain and I overheard talking about it, despises me.

I am hearing some people in my office gossiping about what someone supposedly said about another coworker. I have a hunch that the someone is me. The person, who went to the supervisor to complain and I overheard talking about it, despises me. She has harassed me since the first day I started with the company 2 yrs. ago. She recently found out I was taking some on the job online training and that I have gone back school. Shortly after she found out she came to my desk intimidating me. She stood at my desk after I politely told her. Then stood there some more without saying a word until I finally said is there a problem with me taking classes.

A few times after this, I saw her whispering to another coworker. So, I knew something was going to happen. That is when I overheard others talking about what someone said about another coworker. Even though I have just had a review and it was great. I don’t know if I should go to her supervisor to find out what was said exactly or leave it alone. No one in management had confronted me on this. But I don’t want to be put in a negative position if I didn’t do anything wrong.

Signed, Intimidated

Dear Intimidated:

You had a good review. You have initiative. Enrolling in online training and going back to school is evidence of that. So possibly you intimidate the woman you say intimidates you. I’m sure you have asked your self why this coworker despises you. That kind of a look in the mirror might help you understand or you could ask her; have a frank talk with her about what about you she dislikes and then see if her dislike has any basis at all. Such a conversation might even lead to each of you seeing if you might improve your working relationship or at least better tolerate each and stay out of the way of each other. It is normal to gossip about one’s personal lives, and that is difficult if not impossible to stop, but that is not for what any of you are hired.

It helps pass the time and is a way for some people to say to each other and to themselves, “I’m OK; she’s not OK.” That kind of gossip should be extinguished by anyone who hears it with a quick, “We have more important things to talk about and putting someone down is not one of them.” What can you do when you wonder if you are the topic of gossip? You have options:

You have a voice. That voice can ask the individual you think talked about you or participated in it by listening, “Did I hear you talking about me?” Or you can request that you not be a topic of gossip. Or you can gossip about the gossip. What do you think about those options? Are they worthy of worry? Not really. The more important questions are:

What are you doing to make your office talk focus on making its work more effective and fun? Are you talking about how to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and wasted money? Are you talking about how to make each others jobs more effective and easier? Are you talking about how to work together as a team? These questions are for what you are hired.

Seriously, you are a productive worker and can be even more so if you think about and raise such questions with your coworkers. If you do, I predict that you will soon forget about being intimidated.One indirect yet effective way to lessen your worry about that woman whom you think despises you, is to get your office staff to have a do and don’t communication rule-making session. These rules can cover such topics as how assignments should be made and clarified, what needs to be communicated early when one comes to work and before leaving, who needs to be informed of certain topics, what gossip should be off limits, what talk creates a hostile work environment, and what communication can make for a friendlier atmosphere.

Possibly you can speak with your supervisor about the value of her/him leading your staff in such a do/don’t communication rule making session. Think about the benefit of posting and from time to time for your staff to review those rules. Do any of these suggestions make sense? Will you continue to feel intimidated or will you do what you can to put it behind you? Don’t allow worry about this woman to rumble and rumble in your head. Decide on a course of action. No one thing will be a quick fix for a pattern that has developed but you don’t have just one choice of what to do. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is the kind of spirit you want and can do your part to shape in your office.

William Gorden