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Terrible mistake in confiding in my assistant…

Dear Office-Politics,

I am a senior manager in a rather isolated, though lucrative section of a small company. I have recently been recruited for two other jobs that pay at least $40,000 more than my current pay. Unfortunately I did not accept either position because I did not want to move. However I made the terrible mistake in confiding in my assistant about my job offers.

I recently discovered that she told my boss about my job offers as well as about lightly critical comments I had made about his management and has garnered herself a promotion in the process. I still have power because I am personally requested by our clients to handle million dollar deals — a fact that is allowing me to keep my job. However my ex-assistant’s perfidy has obviously damaged/destroyed my authority. I am also very disturbed that my boss did not see my duplicitous assistant for what she is. How would you suggest I handle the situation?


timothy johnson

Dear My-terrible-mistake,

Can you come over for poker night? I really need to win back a few hands, and I think you’re just the person to help me.

When it comes to matters of “what might occur professionally” it is always wise to divulge very little (translated: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING) to those around you. “Confiding in a Coworker” is a myth, and it generally has all the success of a Bigfoot sighting. There are times I will let information out, simply because I live in a (professionally) small town and I want to see how the information will flow back to me. However, the really, really, really important things (like other people want to hire me for $40K more than you’re paying me) are generally taboo. So, what to do now that you’ve spilled the beans? There are two things you need to do and neither of them involves the deceptive coworker (other than: I’ve hope we’ve all learned a valuable lesson here… you fill in the blanks):

1) You still have a degree of power based on your success with your current accounts. Protect that, as it is now your most valued resource. You’ve lost some “face” in the eyes of your boss, and so you will need to work to regain his trust and confidence.

2) Talk to your boss. He now knows the score, but you need to do some perception-fixing. You should emphasize that you chose him (and your current company) over considerably higher pay, and he needs to realize that. Since he knows you’ve bad-mouthed his management style, use it as a coaching moment. Apologize for not sharing the feedback with him directly, and reiterate the feedback. Emphasize that you both have choices to make: you can let this come between you, or you can use it as a growth experience to strengthen your relationship. If somebody is playing on a logical and moral field, then your sincere humility should eventually be rewarded… BUT, you’ve got to EARN back the trust.

As for your co-worker, reputation has a funny way of catching up to people. I hope this helps.

Thank you for writing Office Politics.

Best wishes,

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.

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