Approximately seven months ago, I took a promotion that required relocation to a new city, away from my friends and family. Within a month, two other young professionals (I will call them Will and Grace) joined the team and we began to socialize outside of work – that is until I learned from a member of senior management that things I shared with them in confidence had been shared with other coworkers.
From that point on and for the past two months, I intentionally distanced myself from them in and outside of work, deciding that they were not worthy of my trust or time. I chose not to confront them for fear it would disrupt our professional relationships, and I sought out other friendships with people I do not work with. They continued to spend time together and quickly “hired” replacements for their clique.
A few days ago, I went out after work with this group (sans the loose-lipped couple who were out of town) for the first time since the incident. Everyone was really enjoying themselves (surprisingly myself included) until one of my coworkers decided that she needed to tell me that Will had been trashing me to everyone in the office. He claimed that I trapped him into saying unprofessional things about senior management and then called HR to report his behavior, leading to an investigation and reprimand. The true consequence – most everyone in the clique believed I was trying to sabotage his career. The truth is that I did not betray his trust and never repeated what he or Grace told me to anyone.
Understandably upset and confused, I left to sort everything out and after two days of over-analyzing the situation, I have come to only one conclusion. There is a common denominator in both of our situations – Grace. In my situation, I blamed both of them. In his, he blamed me. But after a lot of thought on the issues and their characters, I truly believe we are both victims of Grace’s immaturity and iniquity. I knew early on it was a friendship that needed to be managed closely, but after she betrayed me, I couldn’t maintain the relationship and my integrity. But they remain die-hard friends. Can you advise me on how to confront Will about the true source of this toxicity without offending him or inciting more harm by his friend the saboteur?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
You’ve learned a valuable lesson in a very difficult way. However, it is a lesson that many people need to learn when entering a new and unfamiliar work environment: be extremely careful about selecting your confidants. There are some people for whom blabbing is a food group, and it sounds like Will and Grace fall into that category. You were wise to distance yourself from them early.
Now, it sounds like you were blindsided severely twice, and I’m guessing that your instincts are probably correct about the source of the bad information. However, I’m going to discourage you from exposing Grace for who she is, and here is why:
1. It sounds like you already have allies who are watching your back. You yourself said that a senior manager informed you that they were sharing your observations with other co-workers. You also said that Will and Grace’s new “friends” shared with you (their outsider) about Will’s trashing of your reputation. If any of these people had taken Will’s or Grace’s comments sincerely, they would not have invited you to come along, nor would they have shared this information with you. So… you have people in your corner. Let’s focus on the positive, OK? If people were taking Will and Grace seriously, they would not betray them by sharing this with you.
2. This is an issue of power and perception. Will, and more probably Grace, are using the perceptions of others to gain power. They are sabotaging others’ reputations to make themselves look good. By the way, just because you’ve identified Grace as the “common denominator,” do not discount Will’s potential to trash you. Just continue to be cordial to him and hope that you do not have to cross paths too often on projects. If I were a betting man, I would wager that he will come to the realization about Grace eventually on his own.
3. You have no concrete proof that Grace is the informational ground zero. Unless you had an email or some other form of evidence to catch her, making accusations will most likely backfire on you. As evidenced already, a lot of people appear to be aware of their reputations. You said that you were so bothered that you “over analyzed” the situation. Rather than obsessing about Will and Grace, channel your energies into managing your own reputation. Instead of scurrying off when the “clique” told you what Will had said, making some effort to refute it tactfully might have been the better approach. Making accusations that you cannot substantiate would put your reputation in danger, and it would support Will’s and Grace’s accusations that you trash others.
Again, in the future, pick your allies, friends, and confidants well… but don’t become so jaded by this that you no longer trust anybody.
I wish you well. Thanks for writing to office politics.
Timothy Johnson, Author
Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.