Who Is To Blame?

Question:

Here is the situation: Bob shared some confidential information with his friend Ted, but asked Ted not to share with anyone.

Ted, who is the head of the department, shared the information with the people in his department and asked them not to share it with anyone. Neither of the co-workers shared the information with anyone else. However, Bob came to each of the two co-workers separately and asked, in casual conversation, if they had heard the news. Both co-workers, not wanting to lie, said, “yes” they had heard. Bob was furious that Ted had told his co-workers and betrayed him. Then Ted got angry with his co-workers because they said that they knew.

The way I see it: Ted told a secret that he should not have shared. (It wasn’t even information worth sharing in the first place. No big deal.) So, even though Ted is blaming his two coworkers for hurting the friendship between Bob and Ted, the co-workers had no obligation to lie for Ted or anyone.

What do you think?

Signed,

Wondering


Answer:

Dear Wondering:

It seems that everyone used poor judgment to some extent. I expect there is a background story that has an effect on the situation as well. (There usually is!)But, it’s a shame for it to happen and these are the kind of things that can disrupt work for days and weeks or longer.

Ted was wrong to have told anyone something he promised he would not tell. Even if it was no big deal, he should have kept it to himself or convinced Bob that it wasn’t worthy of being a secret.

From an outsider’s perspective, I think the coworkers used bad judgment as well. If they knew they weren’t supposed to have been told about a situation, it would have kept the office much calmer if they would have said they didn’t know and let Bob think he was the first one to tell them. That wouldn’t have hurt anything and would have helped a lot.

As for not wanting to lie, I’ll bet the coworkers have said many things at work that weren’t exactly true or were outright untruths, to avoid getting in trouble or to avoid creating conflicts. In this case, it would have been kinder to have pretended ignorance.

Of course, Bob should not have told his secret in the first place if it was terribly important to him. Apparently it wasn’t important or he wouldn’t have done his loyalty test of Ted, by asking the coworkers about it. And, if Ted had been a friend in the past, this doesn’t seem to be worth stopping the friendship over.

As it stands now…..Bob is angry at Ted; Ted feels guilty and wants to blame someone so he’s angry at the coworkers; the coworkers want to justify their behavior and resent being caught in the middle of it anyway, so they are angry at Ted and probably at Bob as well.

The quick solution, to help everyone get back to normal, would be for Ted to go to Bob and apologize in one big confession of guilt and ask Bob to forgive him. He could go to the coworkers and absolve them of wrongdoing and accept his blame for putting them in the middle of it. Then, they could get back to work.

If the coworkers want to have a role in calming this, they could go to Bob and tell him that while Ted DID give up the secret, he was adamant that they were to keep quiet about it, which they did. No one knows or will know, so his secret is safe. They could tell Ted what they did and tell him that next time they’d like to be left out of these situations, please! Then, they could get back to work.

If Bob wants to calm things down he should just figure this is one of those times when even your best friends can let you down. If the friendship is worth it, he will tell Ted he is disappointed, hurt and angry, but he’d like to get back to work and not have this hanging over their heads. He could tell the coworkers that he’s sorry he put them in the position of having to figure out how to handle this situation and he’s over it now.

If he genuinely feels this is the end of his friendship with Ted, he should simply not share his life and work with him in the same way in the future. He doesn’t need to make a big announcement about it to Ted.

If blame is being assigned, I’d say Ted was most to blame for telling a secret. He is the pivotal person in this. Bob was to blame as well for doing his test of Ted and making it a source of conflict for everyone. The coworkers were to blame in part for responding to Bob in a way they should reasonably have known was going to cause bad feelings.

But, since humans were involved in all of it, I think everyone should ruefully smile and admit that we’re all pretty much messed up about these things. Everyone could step forward and say they’re sorry things worked out as they did and that friendships and good working relationships are too important to let this tear them apart. Then, everyone can get back to work and put this aside. It will take time, but a new crisis will take its place before long.

If you are part of this situation, I hope you will have a strong role in bringing calm to the situation and helping everyone put it in perspective. If you are advising one of those involved, do your best to help them be the source of calm for this.

I know how something of this nature can disrupt everyone. You have my best wishes for success in restoring good feelings.

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.