Supervisor Talked About My Personal History

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworkers discussing my personal history: They were discussing me having been a stripper (true, 20 years ago) and some reference was made to “giving the guys a lap dance”.

I just transferred into another position in a different building, joining a small administrative staff. My female supervisor is good friends with the gal next to her cubicle, so they tend to gossip about other employees a lot. One of my coworkers told me that before I officially transferred in, the 2 of them were discussing my personal history openly in the office. They were discussing me having been a stripper (true, 20 years ago) and some reference was made to “giving the guys a lap dance”. At this point I don’t know if they said this just jokingly to the office staff or if this “lap dance” comment was made to an male employee, which would be far worse IMO. I’m not sure which of the two said what about me, but my supervisor was part of this conversation.

In a different conversation my supervisor told my coworker (openly through the office) that I have breast implants. I have no idea how they know about my history but I do NOT want it discussed, nor do I want to be taken less seriously as a good employee based on my past.I’m not sure what to do about this just yet, but I’m curious… what laws/rules/policies have they broken in doing this?

Signed, Don’t Want To Be Talked About

Dear┬áDon’t Want To Be Talked About:

Thank you for providing some additional information to assist in our response. We’ll keep that private to avoid revealing your workplace. There are probably several rules that have been broken, if you could prove it. But, those would be difficult to establish. If the witness would come forward strongly and stand up and be counted, that would be one way to prove it, but I’ll bet she wouldn’t.I doubt that you could accomplish much by reporting your supervisor to anyone there, including her own manager.

You don’t have proof–and those who have gone along with her gossiping would support her. People complain about gossiping, but they sure as heck love to participate when the dirt being dished up is about someone else! I’m afraid that if you said something now there would be a big upset and nothing would happen anyway, but your life at work would be very, very uncomfortable to the point of being miserable.Bide your time a bit, build your own value and above all, never ever participate in her gossiping. If she starts talking about someone, look for a way to change the subject or move away.

However, if you ever become aware that she has improperly accessed records and talked about them to others or done something else that is a provable violation of rules or policies, report that immediately. Failure to do so can get you in trouble too, as you know. If you have clear evidence that she is discussing something that could harm your reputation or career (or the reputation and career of someone else) you may need to report that as well. (The circumstances would help you make the decision.)

I don’t think you would accomplish anything by letting her know you don’t approve, because she doesn’t care–it’s a habit with her by now. You will probably have to take more formal action, if you want the behavior to stop. In addition, just going to her may stop it temporarily, but then there is no record of what you have done.

The important thing is to be aware that you can’t just hint around about it to her manager or to HR. You will either have to ask for a meeting and make a complaint or ask for a meeting and discuss your concerns while asking for advice about how to handle things. Then, you’ll have to stick with it, even if it’s unpleasant. Misusing computer records is different, in that a sergeant could simply check access. But rumors you’ve heard or things she has said to you, would have to be quoted from you, so she would know who reported it.

Now, having said that, if you are asked by upper management about her, I think you should be truthful. Say that you don’t trust her and that you have heard stories of her misusing the computer records, talking about your history and the personal lives of others, and similar things. You can say that since you don’t have proof, you’ve focused on your own work and intend to keep moving forward.

That way you get the truth out while establishing that you’re above the gossip.I often mention the three things it takes to have positive influence: 1. You must be credible. (Job knowledge as well as truthfulness and dependability.) 2. You must be valuable. (Make it worthwhile to link with you and make it worthwhile to have you in the workplace.) 3. You must communicate effectively. (Directly, engagingly) Your supervisor, in her own way, has most of those things. Even her gossip is probably based on some truth. That shows you why unpleasant people can have influence. They provide at least two of the three things that make it worthwhile to put up with them.As you gain more and more influence, you can help offset her bad behavior in the office. Begin by establish yourself as being a non-gossiper, even about her.

It’s one thing if someone wants to discuss a concern for a few minutes. But after that, stop it by letting them know that if they’re very concerned and they have proof, they should go to the manager. If not, it’s just rumor and it won’t get better by talking about. Even if you’ve done some talking about her in the past, make it a resolution to stay clear of that now. Make it where people realize you can be a good judge of what is gossiping, because you aren’t doing it.If there are associations or groups you can join that can add to your professionalism, check into those if you can get time away. If you see classes being offered in-house and you can get the time, take them, even if they are not about your specific assignment.

Especially look for training about job skills, communications, conflict resolution and related topics. Show that you are developing yourself. Look for ways to have a leadership role in the office, in any way possible. That is the surest way to neutralize gossip. It’s hard to talk about someone who is being supportive, encouraging and helpful to everyone.The bottom line is that you probably won’t be able to stop your supervisor from being a gossip who does inappropriate things. But, you can be better than her and you can perhaps be ready when she steps so far over the line that even her manager and higher aren’t willing to put up with it anymore. That’s when your professionalism and positive reputation will be a great thing to have as a well-known trait.Best wishes to you with this challenging situation!

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.