By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, and Clayton the Clueless. This week I discuss Greta the Gossip, truly one of the most vicious, destructive, and passive-aggressive bosses in a workplace.
GRETA THE GOSSIP
SITUATION: Greta the Gossip likes to spread rumors, innuendoes, and stories. She loves to know other people’s business – she’s snoopy, intrusive, collects info, and tells tales. She asks personal questions about you to others and/or directly to you that are really none of her business — about your finances, menstrual cycle, number of sexual partners, income, marriages, children, age, weight, and every other issue. She simply knows no bounds. She can be rude and insensitive, and her “chutzpah” is shocking at times. Just when you think Greta can’t get any more intrusive, she comes up with another unsettling question. You stand there – shocked at her lack of tact and social skills. You really don’t know what to say.
She likes to gain and gather information so that she can use it against you in the future and to her advantage – when you ask for a raise, promotion, transfer, or a special favor. She can be calculating, cold, and psychopathic. Inwardly, she relishes being nasty, but she pretends she’s innocent. She would never admit that she is devious, vicious, and deliberately plotting against you beneath her sugar-coated veneer of “caring about you” or “just trying to help.” You are shocked, hurt, and outraged at her viciousness, mean-spirited nature, and out and out lying – all under a wide-eyed innocent façade.
Many times Greta is sneaky and will go to the Internet and find out all sorts of personal information about you – your son’s DUI and license suspension or a bankruptcy from years ago or the price you sold your home for. “Well, it’s public record!” Greta will respond. Unfortunately, she may be correct. It’s a sign of how low she will stoop to get information on you as a power tactic to use for discrediting, embarrassing, and humiliating you and to control you. She may hope you quit so she doesn’t have to pay unemployment. She will do anything to gain leverage over you and gossip is her weapon, which is sometimes more painful, dangerous, and murderous than a gun, knife, or poison. You must be able to set the boundaries and inform her in clear terms that what she’s asking is simply none of her business. You need to call a process shot on her so she knows you’re hip to her tricks. You must also tell her that her lies are untrue and vicious. You feel you have to do something to stop her and you can.
EXPLANATION: Perhaps during her childhood, Greta was ignored or shunned by the “in” crowd. So she learned how to get back at them — she called them the “mean girls” — through gathering information, finding out their secrets, and then telling the secrets, as well as spreading untrue rumors and gossip. What’s ironic is that she’s become one of the “mean girls” herself. This may be her unconscious revenge on the rest of the world for the rejection she experienced as a child or a teenager. She also may be a truly vicious, mean-spirited rumor spreader who likes to destroy others with her evil intentions. Greta is motivated by fear, hate, and revenge. She is not a happy person, she feels enormously insecure, and is very lonely inside. She doesn’t trust people and she doesn’t make, have, or maintain good friends because her confidentiality can’t be trusted. She is superficial, phony, narcissistic, and usually materialistic, judging people by their money, clothes, car, jewelry, and house. She usually doesn’t want to feel vulnerable to others so she pretends that she is strong, that everything is fine, that she’s perfect, and that YOU are the one with the problem. She is very passive-aggressive – doing something nasty and aggressive, like spreading rumors and vicious lies – but in a passive manner. She is a snake and you must protect yourself against her because she is lethal.
SOLUTION: If you confront Greta or report her to HR, you need evidence so document everything she says and does. Bring any and all documentation, evidence, and proof – emails, phone messages, voice mail, text messages, letters, and/or other witnesses. It may be difficult to get others to reveal the rumors she has told them, because they want to keep their jobs and they may not come to your defense. Perhaps they will keep silent, until it happens to them! Then they may come running to you for help. If you report Greta to HR, you may ask them to handle it. If they confer with you and then ask you to have a conference with Greta, be prepared for her denials of any wrong doing.
If you confront Greta yourself, bring your proof with you. Whether you confront her yourself or in the HR office, you may want to say something like this: “Greta, I respect how hard you work and I would like to maintain a cooperative working relationship with you. I have discovered that you told people in the office that I’m pregnant (incompetent, lazy, getting a divorce, had an abortion, etc –whatever her lies and/or rumors were) and that is simply not true. It has damaged my reputation and hurt my feelings, and I’m angry about it. I’ve put on some additional weight and I’ve skipped my exercise class after my mother’s death, which I think is a normal reaction to such a loss. I resent you gossiping about me and spreading false rumors like this. I ask that you apologize and send an email to people in the office, including our supervisor and bosses, stating that you were wrong and that you’re sorry. I’d like to continue to work with you in this office and if you don’t do this, you’ll force me to go to HR to handle this. Are you willing to do that? I hope so because we all have to get along together here and I’d like to be able to work cooperatively with you.”
If Greta agrees, follow up and make sure everyone gets a copy of her email, including you and the supervisor and bosses. Put this behind you and go on. Keep a close eye on her because usually these types either continue to gossip about you or they find someone else to gossip about. They can’t be trusted.
If Greta refuses to apologize and write the email, then go to HR. You can file a formal complaint. HR can also have her in for a talk, ask her about it, and even have you in to confront her directly. HR can ask Greta to write the email and apologize. If HR refuses to do anything about it, you can send an email to your co-workers refuting any malicious rumors, stating that you confronted Greta and she has not apologized and sent everyone an email about her errors, as you had politely requested. You may also want to add that you did go to HR, who has not handled the matter at all.
If it persists and you think you have a law suit for “hostile work environment,” then get an attorney and have them write a letter or sue the company. This is crucial to protect your reputation, career, and sanity. Stand up for yourself and be strong! You can do it!
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. She is the host and producer of “The Linnda Durré Show,” which airs daily on 810 AM Radio in Central Florida and streams live on global audio on computers at www.BIG810AM.com M-F from 12-1 PM (ET). For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.