how to confront someone who is talking behind your back

Confronting Someone Who is Talking Behind Your Back at Work

Talking Behind Someone’s Back

Office gossip is rampant in many workplaces. What do you do when you get wind that someone is talking behind your back?  They are displeased with something you are doing. They haven’t told you directly, but you inadvertently find out.  In this case study, the employee accidentally sent a text about you that was intended to go to someone else. We’ll explore 3 approaches, discussing the pros and cons of each. You’ll learn how to confront someone who is talking behind your back, and be well equipped to act when this happens.

The Situation

You are the vice president of a marketing firm. One of your direct reports, Mason, prepares client presentations for you. You’ve worked together for a year in a fairly smooth relationship. Mason is somewhat quiet, but efficient at the job. He has never spoken to you about any problems working together.

Gossip Intercepted

However, you received a text from Mason one evening when you were both working late. Once you started reading, it became clear it was sent to you by mistake. It was meant for one of Mason’s friends. It reads:  “My boss is ok, but hovers a lot. checks EVERY little thing. i wish i got more credit for knowing my job. Some days, feels like I’m back in high scool. TTYL”

manager behavior

Which of these is an Effective Strategy for Dealing with Gossip in the Workplace?

It bothers you to learn that Mason regards your working relationship this way. Could he be right?  The thing is, he has never expressed any frustration about this. What should your reaction be as a Q4 leader?

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. To avoid embarrassing him, don’t discuss the text with Mason. But do begin to change how you interact, showing you trust his abilities. He will change his perception over time.

 No, please try again.

B. Discuss the text with Mason, with an eye toward listening to what he has to say. That will help build candor and trust.

How to Confront Someone Who is Talking Behind Your Back

Dimensional Model of Behavior


Avoid Awkwardness of Confronting the Employee. Just Change Your Behavior.

To build a Q4 candid relationship, it would not be constructive to ignore the text message. Even though the text gives you insight for working with Mason in the future, it’s still better to discuss what happened in order to work on your relationship.

Answer A is not a good option for how to confront someone who is talking behind your back.

Provide as comfortable a setting as you can for discussion. Follow Answer B, and you should come out of this with a way for Mason to speak honestly about his job and help you work together better in the future.

Discuss the Issue with the Employee. Focus on Listening

It would be human nature for you to be defensive after reading Mason’s hidden feelings. (You don’t really hover, do you?) But a Q4 leader is approachable about employees’ candid feelings. That’s one of the strongest reasons for meeting about the text.

Remember, this is how he perceives reality, whether you agree or not. Give Mason a real platform for airing his feelings. Let him do the talking. Turn it into a positive about your future work relationship. Going forward, what can you both do to communicate better and work more effectively with one another? Let Mason suggest the ways. Go with answer B to best handle someone talking behind your back.

Talking Behind Someone's Back is Normal. Ignore It

Answer C is a cynical response that a Q4 leader shouldn’t give in to. It’s also Q2 passive. It sounds like a way simply to avoid dealing with employees and their “pesky” feelings. Your role is to promote communication, not tamp it down until it explodes.

Initially, it may be awkward to acknowledge the misdirected text. But you can use the event to build candor between you. Answer B has details.

C. It’s inevitable for employees to complain about the boss. The text wasn’t meant for you. Ignore it for now and see if he feels strongly enough to say something to you later.

 No, please try again.

Confronting Other Workplace Issues

Now that you are an authority on how to confront someone who is talking behind your back, are you eager to learn how to confront other workplace issues?

Head over to our leadership development resources. On our Learning for Leadership page you’ll find a number of resources to learn more about leadership.  These include our 4 leadership books, leadership white papers, leadership case studies, additional leadership tips, and more.

If you are ready to take the next step and put your leadership skills into practice, our Q4 Leadership Workshop in an excellence program to learn practical leadership skills, apply them to situations in your workplace, and to get insight into how you come across in a leadership interaction.

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