my coworker overheard me trash-talking her

A reader writes:

I talked badly about a coworker behind their back and unbeknownst to me, she overheard and now I feel terrible.

I was complaining about her work ethic, and the coworker I was complaining to had the same complaints. It was things like “She’s done that to you? OMG she has done that to me too, I had to carry the entire load on this project and she did nothing,” etc.

The person we were talking about normally works until 3pm so we thought she was gone. It was 6pm and the office was empty (we thought). She sits in a cubicle diagonal to my coworker’s cubicle, where we were when we were venting unkindly. We heard a giant ruffle of papers from there and both of us fell quiet and then a few minutes later, she walked by us to the sign-out sheet.

We tried to make small talk about looking for candy because we all felt awkward, and she sweetly offered us Snickers that she said she had at her desk. It was a nice gesture that she probably made even though she heard us. I don’t know how much she heard, but the worst case scenario is terrible and the best case scenario still not nice.

I’m so ashamed and embarrassed and yet still not sure what to do. One part of me feels like the complaints are very justified; this person has an awful work ethic and it’s very frustrating to work with her. But another part of me feels I violated my own value system because I’m not normally a person who talks about anyone. Even in high school, where I was not popular, I overheard one of the popular kids saying they would trust lowly me because I had a reputation for never talking badly about anyone. It’s been a lifelong value I’m proud of so it took a little digging to find out why I violated my own boundary. It’s because this person’s egregious behavior over the years has worn away at me and I’m angry. (Everyone on the team is irritated by this, it’s been noticed by all of us.)

I don’t want to feel this way though so it pulls at me, especially because this coworker considers me a friend and ally and sits next to me at meetings. I must look very two-faced by being nice to her in person while secretly harboring judgments and resentment, but I don’t know how to be frosty or honest. Part of me doesn’t want it to be my job to address her performance issues with her (management knows) so I am reluctant to explain myself, but it’s a mean and immature to gossip and I don’t know how to handle this. What is the right thing to do here? Do I apologize and tell her why I complained, or do I keep quiet?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

my coworker overheard me trash-talking her was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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November 29, 2016 at 03:32AM