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The Office Gossip gets an earful from 3 advisers

original illustration by Billiam James © verbotomy.com

Dear Office Politics,

I try to be a nice person at work and to stay out of politics however about a couple weeks ago I made a comment about a coworker that I know I shouldn’t have and now I think it’s going to bite me in the butt. I noticed that one of my coworkers leaves for lunch everyday and then comes back and eats his lunch at his desk. I thought that maybe he does contractual work on the side during his lunch break and was curious about it. While chatting with some coworkers I mentioned it. It wasn’t to a supervisor or anyone of authority, I didn’t want to get him into trouble or anything. I felt bad right after I said it, but I guess I thought it wasn’t going to go past the room, and no harm no foul.

Well, today he loudly announced to my boss and other coworkers that we need to have a meeting about gossip mongering because people are saying nasty things about what he does at lunch. I don’t know what to do as I’m scared to admit that I’m the one that said it. Also this coworker has a bad temper and can be very mean. How should I play this? In some hot water.

In Some Hot Water

Three Advisers give their best advice to “In Some Hot Water”

Sometimes we get a letter that poses such a universal dilemma that it’s worth exploring in more depth, and from multiple angles. This letter is a case in point. Gossip is a problem that plagues workplaces everywhere. Here are three responses to the same letter from three Office-Politics Advisers: Author and award-winning journalist, Rona Maynard; Author and Founder, Skill Source, Jennifer Miller; and Office-Politics.com Founder and Author, Franke James.

Dear Hot Water,

About to bite you in the butt, you say? It already has, and hard. Your co-worker has a good notion who’s been questioning his loyalty–and now your boss does, too. The sooner you come clean and accept responsibility for playing fast and loose with your colleague’s reputation, the better your chances of salvaging your own. There comes a point in every career where you simply have to swallow your pride and say, without equivocation or excuses, “I screwed up and I couldn’t be sorrier.” For you that turning point is now….

Dear Hot Water,

There is a Chinese Proverb that says “What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away.”

News travels fast, especially that of a gossipy nature. What started out as rather benign curiosity on your part has quickly turned into an awkward situation with the wronged party making a public declaration of “gossip-mongering.” It’s natural to be curious about a co-worker; we’re human beings after all! Our human curiosity can lead to wonderful inventions and unique problem-solving. The challenge is, sometimes our curiosity leads us to places where we have no business being.

Dear Hot Water,

Your last line “How should I play this?” is where I’m going to start. I sense from your question, that you see office politics as a game – and that you’d like to be able to play it to your advantage.

So that’s where I’ll focus my advice. Not surprisingly (given that I’m the creator of the game-book, Dear Office-Politics) I like to view office politics as a game. And like all games, this one has rules (mostly unwritten), strategies, power plays, opposing teams, a scoreboard, and ultimately winners and losers. But as in sports, you don’t need to play dirty to win…

  1. 4 Answers to “The Office Gossip gets an earful from 3 advisers”

  2. Somebody should be questioning the fact that this co-worker apparently gets to take 2 lunch breaks while everyone else gets one.

    By sally on Apr 29, 2010

  3. Hmm…did not see this idea in the very good advice I did read:
    many salaried professionals use their “lunch” time to run errands, literally RUN for exercise (as I do), read a book, or sit in their car and phone their children at college/their aging parents at home, etc.
    Then, at another time in the day, they have a working lunch at their desk. As I understand it, the Dept of Labor OKs a working lunch and defines it as eating while working. I don’t get the impression that the work-sanctioned lunch (which is NOT guaranteed by the DOL) can only be used for eating.
    Thus, I think the real issue, if there is one, is a lack of privacy and a lack of understanding of what a “lunch hour” should be for any person. Moreover, how might someone have so much time at hand to be analyzing another’s private, perfectly legitimate lunch hour, anyway?

    Just wondering….

    By jen on Apr 30, 2010

  4. Why in the world is someone going out for “lunch” and then eating at the desk considered two lunch breaks? Can you not work and eat at the same time? Is drinking your morning coffee at your desk considered a break as well?

    I find it so weird that someone would actually jump to a conclusion of– maybe my coworker is doing contract work or some other kind of work because they happen to not stay at their desk during the lunch hour and then come back and eat their food.

    Did it ever occur to the coworker that the guy was going to the gym? Going for a doctor’s appointment, going home to let his dog out, running errands and a plethora of other things that would be so benign and essentially none of his coworkers business.

    By Another Laura on Nov 9, 2010

  5. Maybe he goes to noon mass. I have done this, and then have come back and eaten my lunch at my desk.
    I guess she needs to say she was just curious and was expressing her curiosity about what he does, and she knows her curiosity got the better of her.

    By Susan Peterson on Nov 10, 2010

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