Confront nasty behavior

Dear Joan:
It would be great if you would do a column on the B____ in the Workplace. She can get away with doing as little work as possible and spends a great deal of time fighting with and degrading her co-workers. She gossips and continually tattles on her co-workers to the boss. Honestly, sometimes you would think we were in grade school with the tattling.

She is sweet as pie in front of the boss but backstabs her, too...of course, the boss doesn't know that... Management keeps her on and what is even worse, babies her. I see this type of girl as insecure in her job and does this sort of thing to make others look bad and make herself look good.

What makes the boss afraid of these women and allows them to do exactly what they want to do? It seems to me that every place has someone like this in their office and I feel sure that this would be a topic of interest to millions of working women.

Your co-worker has the wrong idea of what it takes to get ahead. I agree with your assessment of the situation; her gossiping and tattling are probably the trademarks of someone who is insecure and who tries to make others look bad so she looks good. People who operate this way-both women and men- spread a destructive virus in the workplace that erodes trust and teamwork.

Several questions come to mind: Why haven't you or anyone else talked to her about her behavior? If the boss and others listen to her, aren't they encouraging her to spy and gossip? Why hasn't anyone discussed her performance with her (Why is she able to do less work than everyone else)? Why are her co-workers talking to her -it takes two to gossip. If she is tattling, is there any validity to what she is saying?

Usually people like this are easy to figure out. I think your manager knows exactly what your co-worker is doing. Most people realize that someone who will gossip about one person will turn around and gossip about them. My hunch is that your manager lacks skills in people management. There's a good chance that the boss is intimidated and doesn't know how to deal with her. He or she may be afraid of confronting her for fear that her vindictiveness and manipulation will get worse and she will be even harder to control.

Management may even be afraid that she will file a grievance or file a lawsuit if they put any pressure on her to change. Many managers have a misguided belief that they can't give their employees any negative feedback because they're afraid that they will be challenged in court. Not so! Giving honest, specific job-related feedback is part of what a good manager does. Managers get into legal trouble when they withhold feedback and then fire the person. They also get into trouble when they make negative, sweeping generalizations about a person's character, instead of describing their behavior (non-judgmentally) and how it's hurting their job performance or their career.

If her manager is interested in changing this person's behavior, here's an approach: From now on, any time this employee tattles or gossips about another employee, the manager needs to say, "How is that negatively affecting your job?" Then, if the situation actually is a job-related issue, the manager should say, "I suggest that you go and talk to the person about it. If you can't resolve it between you, come back and we can talk about more ideas you can try." This will let her know that the boss doesn't approve of idle gossip and it puts the responsibility for solving any real job issues back on the employee’s shoulders first. If the gossip or tattling are purely non-job related, the boss (and co-workers) could say, "I'm surprised to hear you say that about Kathy. She never says anything like that about you."

Her co-workers may be part of the problem. If they are trying to stay on her "good side" by listening to her and feeding her information, they are just making things worse. If you and others decide to ignore her or defend one another when she attacks, it could take the wind out of her sails.

If she isn't doing her work and the rest of you are getting stuck with it, you have a justified complaint that the boss should hear about. As long as she is allowed to set a lower standard for what is expected, your manager has no leverage to expect more from anyone else.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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