High School Bemusical
October 11, 2011 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I thought I was part of the crowd, but it appears I am not - what can I do?

There’s someone at work - let's call her J - who is pretty much universally disliked – she’s very negative, very difficult to get on with, has strange religious tendencies, can be rude to people if she feels they are not conforming to her standards of behaviour, and tends to be bad at picking up social signals – she will keep speaking to you when others would notice you were trying to get on with something (to the point of you picking up the phone to speak to someone), or I will often go over and ask her to do something for me (she is my assistant) and she will start talking about something utterly irrelevant. Most of the time I can completely see why people dislike her, but sometimes it makes me uncomfortable mainly because, as irritating as she is, I know that I don’t always fit with the norms of what people do and it seems a bit like bullying (although some who work closer with her say she is a very unpleasant person).

For example, a few weeks ago another colleague, who was leaving, sent round an e-mail asking if anybody was allergic to dogs, because she wanted to bring hers in on her last day. Nobody responded, so the dog came in, and J started complaining that she was ‘dangerously allergic’, that the allergens were in the air-con and making her feel bad even if she was on the other side of the office, and complained to senior management. This was pretty melodramatic and in part seemed like making a fuss (‘dangerously allergic’ = that it’s on your work file, apparently), but then there was a group of people who started e-mailing each other about how ‘unreasonable’ she was being and then finding pictures of her on Facebook with dogs. I don’t particularly like the girl but when I hear about things like this it seems very mean and also makes me wonder what they might be saying about others...I’ve also heard people say things like ‘nobody likes her here, why doesn’t she just fvck off?’

Anyway. Today I went over to talk to someone else in my office and I saw a message on the work MSN on their screen, complaining about J, and, written as I walked over, ‘here comes no.2’. And this was from someone who I consider to be a good friend in our office – we have gone for drinks after work, chatted a lot, texted each other, and arranged to do things out of work. I really like her, and I thought we were, in a colleague-type way, friends. This feels like a kick in the gut (and I know that sounds bad, ‘oh no I’m just like the person that everyone dislikes’) because for a long time she and I have got on well enough to have personal chats or spend time outside of work, and now it feels like at the least she is being rude about me behind my back. It's quite difficult for me to feel at ease with other people and I was glad we got on well, so this has upset me a lot.

Not really sure what to do, to be honest. Of course, it was nosey of me to look at someone’s screen (I am a very fast reader and can read whole paragraphs just by glancing over or walking past someone's computer) and I can’t bring it up without being paranoid, but I’m really upset just now. I feel a bit betrayed, if it isn’t melodramatic. I’m attending psychotherapy at the moment – it’s a group session – and a lot of this is making me feel how at odds I feel in group situations, particularly those that involve judging tone or social norms, and I feel like maybe I’m not as good at it as I think I am. I worry a lot about what other people think of me, and I don't go out to drinks after work often, partly because I am often travelling at the weekend and partly because I find those situations extremely difficult and tend to compensate by drinking too much or sitting in a corner being quiet. (I've never been diagnosed with an ASD, FYI, but people in the past close to me have wondered whether this is the case.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I say bad things to others about people I like sometimes. Especially when I am tired or grouchy or they are in the way of something else I'm trying to do. Because let's face it, people can be OBNOXIOUS -- even if you love them. It's not hateful, it's just blowing off steam, and you were never intended to see it.

Trust me, if you were my friend and you read my IM's you'd probably have to take a few deep breaths. I try not to think about what the same people are saying about me... I can imagine far too well.
posted by hermitosis at 7:15 AM on October 11, 2011 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you're in some type of management role - is your colleague technically beneath you in the heirarchy? Even if they like you, they would still be aware that you are a step above them.
posted by Think_Long at 7:16 AM on October 11, 2011

Office gossip can get pretty nasty, regardless of whether the people gossiping about you actually get along with you on a personal level or not. And it sounds like your office has a very bad case of office gossip. Try to think of it on an impersonal level -- it's unlikely that people are saying bad things because they actually think them, but more likely it's just that they need to fulfill their craving for gossip. It's very petty -- I feel a bit sorry for them.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:21 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a nasty atmosphere; do you really want these people as friends? How valuable can their opinions possibly be?

I'm not sure if the IM you saw on your coworker's screen was meant to be about you. Whether it was or wasn't, maybe it is a wakeup call to give most of these people a pretty wide berth unless actual WORK requires that you deal with them. And it sounds like these people don't have enough work to do, either. :-)

Try to find some pleasant people there and hang out with them, if you don't feel comfortable being alone. If they're gossiping about others, they are not pleasant, period. And if that's not possible, pass the time at work by doing your work, improving your skills, etc.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:22 AM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Are you 100% certain that "here comes no. 2" was in fact referring to you?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

There is a point wherein you are at work and you hate everyone. Before I left my previous job, I went through about a week of regularly grinding you're all assholes up in my head until I sat down and realized that there was only one or two specific assholes who were mucking it all up for me and I was just projecting it onto all my coworkers because, face it, how often would you show up to the office given the choice (or, better yet, how many coworkers would you replace with shinier, friendler, better people given the choice)?

You will annoy everyone you know and love at some point in time. They may complain about it to someone else. The world keeps spinning 'round the sun, regardless.
posted by griphus at 7:23 AM on October 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

People complain about a lot of things for a lot of reasons. Think of yourself as being like the weather.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:25 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the person spends time with you outside work voluntarily then she likes you. She might have been thinking, for example, "Oh, Mippy's admin is such a nuisance, and Mippy doesn't seem to get how awful she is". Or she might have been thinking "Today I have to deal with THING ABOUT MIPPY'S ADMIN and it's frustrating, and whoa, here comes Mippy, how irritating". Or there could have been some set-up in the IM that wasn't on screen.

In general people who worry a lot about human interactions - which includes me - overthink them. Most of us do not inspire deep loathing or deathless affection in large numbers of people, we just don't. The worst reaction we tend to get is a "meh".

Think of it this way - you don't loathe most people, or adore them madly. Even the ones you kind of don't like much, or kind of like. We just don't have the emotional energy for it.
posted by Frowner at 7:25 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are sometimes groups of people who will devote a significant amount of time saying not-nice things about others behind their backs. I think this usually happens in sort of incestuous cliques. In groups like that, it is commonly expected, and mistaken for wit. When people are a part of those cliques, it is hard to not become a part of the group dynamic and also say mean things about other people, whether they mean it or not.

This isn't to excuse the behavior, I think it is pretty abyssmal myself. Everyone needs to blow off steam, but there is a difference between doing that and sending group emails to one another complaining about another person. It is quite unprofessional, and you can be certain that if they say mean things about people all the time, that you have not been exempt. At the end of the day, why would you want to be close to those sort of people? Anytime I try to be friends with people like that, I start feeling like I am in some sort of high school popularity contest, and end up feeling worse because of it. When I stopped trying to be friends with such people, and look for friends who didn't behave that way, I felt a lot happier and better about myself in general.

I suggest you not worry so much about what unkind people think of you, consider that some of the mean things they say are due to their own insecurities more than your faults, and find people who don't consider trashing other people to be the best form of conversation.
posted by nasayre at 7:38 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Confront her. It would eat at me if I didn't, having to be two-faced and polite every day at work.
posted by Nixy at 7:40 AM on October 11, 2011

Also: People tend to back off when they see you stand up for yourself, in my experience. Especially if you can do it eloquently. There are many approaches: Joke about it, "Oh you weren't talking about me, were you?" Drop a hint that you know about it without revealing where: "Oh, I'm just no. 2!" *wink* Act like it actually hurt you (only works if she is capable of feeling guilt and likes you on some level) Or mention it in a really offhanded way that shows you don't really care what she thinks and shows that you're above it all. Etc.

Yeah, you could always just let it go, but seeing as how she's totally in the wrong, and if she already doesn't like you there's not much to lose...I'd find a way to get it out in the open.

Caveat: if work is big enough that you can just avoid her, that might be better. But being ostracized at work can make things hellish quickly.
posted by Nixy at 7:49 AM on October 11, 2011

Hello. The friend of mine sometimes pops up on the chat thing, saying 'Guess what J said to me today...'. I try not to get drawn into the discussion about her too much, but I really loathe to admit that sometimes there's the relief of 'well, if they're united against a common irritant, then it isn't me at least...'

The company is small and people can be gossipy - at the same time people are pretty friendly with each other in and out of work. As I said above, I sometimes find people's reactions hard to read, and I struggle to separate 'being cross with something I've done' with 'being cross with me as a person', but people have been, I felt, generally nice to me and even brought back things for me from holiday etc., which is why it's surprised me a lot to see that I'm thought of 'in the same category' if you like as J. (Which sounds horrible, but I can't find a way of phrasing it.) The thing is, I obviously spend most of my time at work, I don't see my friends or partner as much as I'd like, and I'm adjusting to a change of schedule to accommodate the psychotherapy I'm doing which has also brought things up that leave me feeling pretty vulnerable to things like this - like it's raking up how I felt from being teased/ostracised at school.
posted by mippy at 7:52 AM on October 11, 2011

I sent a message to the person on whose screen I saw it 'No.2? I thought [person] liked me...# but I didn#t get a response other than 'you shouldn't read other people#s screens' (fair point). I find it hard to doubt that it was referring to me - the conversation also referred to J's (unknown to her) office nickname.
posted by mippy at 7:54 AM on October 11, 2011

As you've said, your administrative assistant does things that make work difficult (interrupting, ignoring work-related conversations) for you and others, and made a big deal about having a medical condition when there was proof on Facebook that the medical condition wasn't as severe...and you expect people to just be happy with how the workplace is going? This is totally a set-up for creating disgruntled coworkers, and since this person is your assistant I can see why you would be included in employee discussions of the workplace problem.

When it comes to work heirarchy, you're not just Mippy: you're BigShotWithAnAssistant first. People can dislike BigShotMippy, but totally love NotWorkMippy. BigShotMippy ignores how disruptive her assistant is; NotWorkMippy is a lot of fun at the bar. Now, don't try to make BigShotMippy the same person as NotWorkMippy -- you need to keep your BigShot status. However, a BigShot who ignores disruptive work behaviors is going to be seen as ineffective, and that's going to count against you when people -- those above and below *and* parallel to you -- evaluate how good you are at doing your job, and your tolerance of the ill-fitting assistant seems to be counting against you.

Now, your assistant, too, is bifurcated: she is ToxicAssistant at work, but is maybe SociallyAwkwardLady away from work. You sympathize with SociallyAwkwardLady and feel bad for how she's being treated. Separate those two, right now: ToxicAssistant can be dealt with, without hurting SociallyAwkwardLady, by behaving in a businesslike way towards ToxicAssistant.

So, my solution isn't that you need to confront the person who was saying negative things in chat -- what they were doing is a symptom of their relationship with their workplace. You seem to admit that you can understand why these people see your assistant negatively, and it would seem to feel your negative assistant is dragging you down with her. Talk to that coworker with the negative chat conversation about your *assistant*, and how they feel about how *management* is handling things -- it sounds like you're in the middle anyhow, not a final-decision-maker on employees, so you can diffuse the conversation from being specifically about yourself, but you'll get a lot of information you can use in how to handle the situation. Like it or not, you and the toxic assistant are tied together by a thick rope, and you should handle it like a responsible manager, even if you're technically not the person who is in charge of the decision. By handling this responsibly, without personal attachment, using information cleaned from professional conversations with coworkers, and you'll improve your standing as BigShotMippy.

(I can also hear in your tone the worry that SociallyAwkwardLady will react badly to any businesslike correction of her behavior; if YOU are behaving in a professional, businesslike, and non-emotionally-charged way, you aren't the problem, she is, and that should be more reason that her behavior needs correcting. Talking to other employees will help bolster your self-confidence, too. Have another person with, preferably your boss or another higher up, if you're worried SociallyAwkwardLady will behave inappropriately towards corrections)
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:56 AM on October 11, 2011 [16 favorites]

hmmm, you probably shouldn't have done that.
posted by Think_Long at 7:57 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. bitchy people tend to be bitchy all round; it's more about lack of filters than deep feelings.

2. Just because she made a snotty comment, possibly about you, doesn't mean she doesn't like you. I have thoughts about my work colleagues sometimes (which I don't voice) that would be hurtful... the office tends to be close quarters and everyone gets a chance to grate on others nerves.

2. "here comes no. 2" ... this could be anything. Even if it was about you, it doesn't mean she dislikes you; could just be "here's the second person who's going to ask me for a deliverable" or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:00 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some people's "affections" can turn on a dime, but the good news is that they can switch back just as fast. Also, there's a sort of cameraderie between the people who are all on the same level that just naturally excludes any of the higher-ups; during a show I worked on, when I was going to round up the cast and bring them onstage after a break during one of our rehearsals, I overheard that someone in the cast heard me coming and was cracking a snarky little joke about me.

But I let it go -- because they weren't really snarking about me as a person, they were actors snarking about their stage manager. It wasn't about me, it was about the job; they were the workers who were grumbling about having to quit their coffee break and get back to work, and I was the shop foreman who was telling them to do that.

But getting back to work was THEIR job, and getting their asses out of the dressing room and onto the stage on time was MY job. And if them snarking about me helped them do THEIR job in time, then MY job was done properly, and that's all I asked. And those very same people always included me in the aftershow cast hangouts nevertheless, so it was just an in-the-monent thing brought about by the difference in our roles. Sounds maybe like you encountered some of the same thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

...sent a message to the person on whose screen I saw it 'No.2? I thought [person] liked me...#

Don't do this again, ever. Never, ever reveal that you're shoulder-surfing, especially if you're management. You don't want to be known as the snoopy boss who sets off a cascade of minimized windows when they walk around.
posted by griphus at 8:04 AM on October 11, 2011 [14 favorites]

I agree with AzraelBrown- if there *is* a connection between you and J in others' minds, it's likely because they view you as in a position to control her. Perhaps they think you should correct her behavior, or perhaps they even wonder why you don't fire her (maybe you can't, but they might not know that).

So is her behavior at work really a problem? Or is others' response to her a problem? Both? Neither?

Once you figure that out, if there is a problem, you should do something about it; if you're the manager, this is part of your job, if you aren't, you should be reporting the problem to someone who can do something about it.
posted by nat at 8:06 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

To clarify (not thread-sitting, honest) - 'assistant' means she does a slightly different job from what I do. The hierarchy runs assistants > people that do what I do > management. We share assistants as they do kind of administrative work.

I try and deal with J politely - if she starts being negative about something (which I find draining to be around) then I try and play devil's advocate. But really it's a personality clash, I think, and that's fair enough.
posted by mippy at 8:06 AM on October 11, 2011

griphus - yes, point taken. To clarify again, I am NOT a boss. I don't manage anyone, we just do different jobs. I don't manage J (the person in the office and I 'share' her as an assistant). I also just saw the messages non-deliberately, because I take in text very very fast.

J's conduct/behaviour isn't something I have any hand in, and I'm sure those who do are taking care of that. It's more the high school snarkiness that is now seemingly involving me too.
posted by mippy at 8:09 AM on October 11, 2011

...sent a message to the person on whose screen I saw it 'No.2? I thought [person] liked me...

I know a lot of people have come down on you for responding this way, and yes, it was the wrong way to handle it, but all is not lost -- repeat that, all is not lost. You're playing into the emotional game, like your "high school bemusical" title implies, and that's not helping -- but as soon as you stop playing the game, things will begin to get back on track. You need to step back and fix the interoffice problems BEFORE addressing any personal issues. Diving into the person issues of "who likes who" first only aggravates the situation. Take a step back and begin addressing the problem -- ToxicAssistant -- in a businesslike matter, and the rest will resolve itself.

(sees your update) Assistant or no, your heirarchy shows that you're above the assistant, even if she's not YOUR assistant. That puts you in a position to handle things in a managerial way, but probably with the help of whoever your manager is. The more you behave like a manager, and less like a high-school clique, the higher your esteem and self-confidence will grow.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:10 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

"it's surprised me a lot to see that I'm thought of 'in the same category' if you like as J"

One ambiguous comment from one coworker to another in no way suggests that you are generally disliked by your coworkers. This small comment does not negate the examples you yourself have given of people hanging out with you socially, giving you gifts etc - there seems to be much more to indicate that you are liked than to indicate that you are disliked.
posted by guessthis at 8:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

You will be on the outside as long as you don't join in the hatefest.

You're senior enough to hold back from joining in, both through maturity and a sense that it isn't cool. This means you're outside the circle of trust for that group.

What you seem to be struggling with - and lots of us do or have done - is that once you get senior enough you can't be friends with the more junior guys like they are with one another. This is just life, unfortunately, and it's a sign that your social life needs to be more distinct from your work life. This is a good thing: it means that if something goes wrong in either place, then it is distinct.

Often this is a first job thing: the friends you make at your first job are often your closest. Subsequently, you might make a good friend here or there but it is harder and you're unlikely to be one of the gang.

I like my colleagues tremendously. But I manage a lot of them and I am under no illusions that while they like having a beer or two with me, it is only the two beers. After that, they want me gone so they can tease one another about things they don't want me to hear, slag off their work, decry their management as incompetent loons, moan about reward and recognition etc. The usual stuff.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:21 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

"here comes no. 2" ... this could be anything. Even if it was about you, it doesn't mean she dislikes you; could just be "here's the second person who's going to ask me for a deliverable" or whatever.

Seconded. My first thought on reading this question was wondering why you assume that her referring to you as "No. 2" means she doesn't like you. Maybe they made a list of people they like in the office, and you're runner up. Maybe they gave everyone Austin Powers nicknames. Maybe they're referring to the fact that (according to your own rundown) you're in the second tier of the hierarchy. I say let it go.
posted by solotoro at 8:25 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's none of your business what other people think about you. Seriously. Ignore it and move on. Actions speak louder than words (and talk is cheap), so take people at face value. You could send out a friendly reminder that work MSN and work email is to be used for work discussion exclusively, but that's as much as you should do. Do not participate in the workplace gossip with subordinates.
posted by 200burritos at 8:29 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Okay, yes, it was referring to you. The response from the person you IMed makes that clear. Not sure why people have so much trouble believing this.

Still, you shouldn't have IMed the person you did, especially not in such a weak way "I thought she liked me, waaahh!" Not good.

If you were going to say anything, you should have said something to the person who wrote it. But you were probably too afraid to, and now word has got around that you read her IM and it's too late.

I still advocate sticking up for yourself, but you can't show insecurity like that. I wouldn't just completely act happy go lucky either. But show some spine, look people in the eye, rise above it and don't take any crap. You need to pump yourself up, realize that they're in the wrong and there's no reason for them to gossip about you. Once you feel that way, it will show in your aura and people will be less likely to mess with you.
posted by Nixy at 8:40 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hello - I am not senior at all. The friend I am talking about (the MSN one) is two grades above me, on the same level as my line manager (she doesn't manage me). The only 'subordinate' is J, and even then I do not have managerial power over her - she just does a different job. I do not manage anyone. I can't clarify this easily without being too specific about where I work, but I'm on the lower tier of the role I do if that makes sense (me > senior version of me> manager version of my role)

200burritos - I try hard to adopt this attitude!
posted by mippy at 8:40 AM on October 11, 2011

I think you're kind of working yourself up. How people feel about each other at work is a continuum -- you like people some days, less so others, and there are always little resentments going around as well as bursts of good feeling. It's not just a single snapshot in time.

You really don't know what the intent or context of that message was, and you can't know. But even without the message, you still don't know what others are thinking of you.

I think you might want to just take it easier on yourself, be the best, most professional person you can be (your sense that there's some exclusionary bullying thing going on against the assistant seems right) and tell yourself that when she said ‘here comes no.2’ she was about to poop herself.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:41 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

What nasayre said. People in these kinds of groups think it's normal; it's not. It's rather nasty and I've been part of plenty of happy, functioning social groups that weren't full of backbiting and cruel gossip.

They're like this to everyone. Let it go.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:46 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

In that case, I change my answer. Your workplace sounds toxic. I can't believe that your superiors are behaving in this manner! If you can, find a place where you will be respected. If you're not able to find a new job, ignore these people and do your work well. Don't go out to lunch with them and don't be 'friends' with them. Keep reminding yourself that that what they think doesn't matter. I think you should work on building up your confidence so that you don't find yourself tangled up in these kinds of feelings again. I know that it can hurt when people you trusted turn on you, but once you are more confident you'll be able to attract the right kind of friends. You'll also be able to brush off people like the ones you've described; if you're awesome enough to yourself, you'll pay no mind to petty, basic people.
posted by 200burritos at 8:56 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

okay while I do agree that this is an uncomfortable situation to be in, it does seem that you're winding up a bit and overthinking this to a degree.

You truly cannot control how people think about you. You can be the greatest, most outgoing, most socially adept person in the office and I can absolutely guarantee there will still be someone in the group who will dislike and/or say unkind/snotty things about you regardless of whether it's out of genuine dislike or jealousy or whatever batty reasoning works for them.

the absolute best thing you can do in any work related situation is focus on things you can control. Things you can control don't include office gossip; past, present or future. You've exhausted any logic behind these thought patterns and your responses in thread indicate that you're starting to go in hamster wheel circles. By doing so, you are simply prolonging the drama cycle. Drama suffocates in a vacuum. Take the adult path here and let it be.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:58 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

You said you don't "fit in with the norms." J is just 'worse' than you. But your statement leads me to think that you know you can be annoying to people, as well.

Your need to respond in the way you did (i.e. messaging the person about what you saw on someone's screen and saying, effectively 'I thought you liked me, *pout*') says to me you might try to fit in too hard, and outwardly may appear to be trying to get people to like you.

But, what other people said - don't dwell on it. Though you have opened yourself up for a bit more side-talk for a little bit with going the route you did, if you just blow it off and continue as normal, that should subside.

If you're not management, then your "#2" label may have come from your reluctance to play their game and outwardly insult/make fun of J. So, take it as a compliment.

on preview - what lonefrontranger said; it is my typical advse daily to people, as well. Focus on what you can control and don't worry about things you can't.
posted by rich at 9:00 AM on October 11, 2011

I suggest abiding the bitch filament. I only have minor experience with hearing things said behind my back, but it has definitely discouraged me from ever snooping through anyone's email or IMs. It takes a lot of energy to be angelic all the time, some people just want to blow off steam.

Additionally, I don't see how "here comes no.2" immediately means anything negative-- if I were you, I'd just put it out of mind and do my job well. It could mean anything, and you're only going to drive yourself crazy trying to guess.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:07 AM on October 11, 2011

Man, I just made a decision that I do. not. fucking. care. what people think of me at work and it is the most freeing thing ever. I'm polite to people, I do my work, and I smell good, but I go home and completely forget these people exist. IT IS AWESOME.

I can't explain how to get to this place, but it had nothing to do with "trying." It was like a switch flipped. I realized that I didn't have to care, and absolutely nothing was gained by caring.

Seriously. Just decide you don't care. If you start to think about it, acknowledge the thought and quickly move on to something else.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sounds like a horrible atmosphere. If I were in your position, I'd want to deal with that, and that would make me feel a whole lot better than persuing some petty, perhaps-bitching-about-me.

I would have two meetings, at a quiet time when it's not too obvious, maybe before or after working hours. First one with your assistant. Ask her to try a little harder to accommodate people and not rub them up the wrong way, and reassure her that you're happy with, well, whatever aspects of her work that she does do well. Tell her she needs to do this to be a part of the team.

Second meeting, with the potential gossiper and pub friend. Don't mention the IM you saw. Just tell them you've noticed a bit of a bitchy atmosphere, and ask their opinion as a friend and colleague, and as someone potentially more in touch with the main offenders (don't use that word! can't think of a better one) what she suggests might be a good way to tackle it and improve the vibe. Don't imply she's part of it. Just ask for her help.

That would be my tactic. If someone's being made a target in the office, however worthy, that needs to stop, one way or another. It's bigger than your hurt feelings.
posted by greenish at 10:26 AM on October 11, 2011

In a workplace like that, everyone gets gossiped about. If you're going to stay, show some leadership. Don't engage in gossip or even act interested. Some people are going to take that as a reproach even if you don't say explicitly that you are on an anti-gossip campaign. (And, if you've been engaging in the gossip at all, it's going to look like you picked the one time it bit you in the ass to get all moralistic about it.) Don't make an announcement or anything; just set a better example.
posted by BibiRose at 10:51 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound kind of hokey, but it's absolutely true:

You can be a leader regardless of your title and/or position with the company. A leader is someone who sets an example by the behaviors and actions they present when interacting with others.

It does not matter if you are the CEO or the janitor. Rise above the petty gossiping and back-stabing. You can politely refrain from participating, and just concentrate on the work.

I'm a supervisor of several people - what they say to my face, and what they say to others are two different things, by necessity. They are interacting with their peer group in the best way they know how, and sometimes that means gossiping about me. I feel confident that my interactions with people one on one and within a group setting have been straight forward and honest, which is the only thing I can control. I really don't care what they say about me - honest!
posted by lootie777 at 11:45 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Everyone sometimes says things about others, including people they love dearly, that they wouldn't want that other to hear. Why? Well, guess what - we're not perfect, none of us. So sometimes people let off a bit of steam - it oils the wheels of social relationships and usually does no harm. I love my sister, but sometimes she's greedy; I mention that to my wife, it eases my mind, and does no harm. But if my sister overhears me she may be a bit upset. This is the way life goes. Just accept that everyone has mixed feelings about everyone else. Look at the relationship you have with the writer of 'number 2' and use your common sense to tell you if she likes you or not. It isn't hard. :)). None of my friends is perfect, we all make the odd comment - not cruel, just observing how they are - so I guess they do the same about me, doesn't worry me, but I'd rather not know. Accept the way the world is, and enjoy it.
posted by nickji at 4:29 AM on October 12, 2011

Anyone who will talk shit to you about another person will talk shit about you to another person.
posted by Windigo at 9:54 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

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