Today I’m answering a question about how to deal with coworkers who talk behind your back. This situation is complicated by proof of the trash-talking.
After my boss fired my coworker, he promoted me and moved me into her office. She had a newer, higher-speed computer, and my boss told me to take it over. I logged in under my profile, but then he told me to first go through her Outlook and see if any of her former customers needed help. Since she’d been erratic in the last month, he also asked me to go through her Outlook deletes.
I got an eyeful. When I saw the first personal message, I deleted it. But there were a lot of messages, and I couldn’t always tell from the subject line that the content was personal. That meant I soon learned she was having an affair with a former coworker. If that wasn’t bad enough, she wrote messages about me, calling me names and saying I wanted her job. That wasn’t true.
She also trash-talked about my personal life with another coworker, one I still work with. I found myself reading every one of them. When I finished, I printed them all and went to into my coworker’s office, threw them at her and said, “I hope you’re ashamed of yourself.” Since then, I haven’t talked with her, nor she with me.
My boss has observed the friction between this coworker and me and wants to know what the problem is. I don’t want to bring up the whole story, because then I’ll have to tell him what the emails said. What do I do?
More: 3 tricks for dealing with a physically intimidating boss
When you saw your name in the emails, you had a choice: Hit delete or read them. You read them, and your anger powered you forward. If you’d taken the time to cool down, you could have handled this differently and handed them to your coworker, saying, “If you have something to say about me, please say it to my face.” She might have then scrambled to apologize.
At this point, you have a mess to clean up and a new choice. Do you rise above this and treat your coworker civilly, or do you carry your grudge forward? Your coworker has a choice, too. She can realize she made a mistake, stop gossiping and treat you with respect. Here’s how to make that happen: Show her this post, and ask, “Can we bury the hatchet?”
If that doesn’t work, you can tell your boss the broad details, that your coworker and the employee who left exchanged gossipy emails about you that hurt. You don’t have to show him the emails, unless your coworker denies her involvement. He’ll either scold your coworker, potentially turning her into an undercover enemy or pull the two of you in for mediation. You can avoid these outcomes if you realize everyone makes mistake and give your coworker a chance to apologize by offering to start fresh. This doesn’t mean you’ll forget what she wrote, nor even completely forgive her — it simply means you’ll carry yourself professionally.
Have a question? Email Curry at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “SheKnows,” and she may answer (confidentially) in an upcoming piece on SheKnows.
Lynne Curry is an executive coach and the author of Solutions and Beating the Workplace Bully (AMACOM). Follow her through her other posts on sheknows.com, via www.workplacecoachblog.com, www.bullywhisperer.com or @lynnecurry10 on Twitter.