What do I do if someone is talking about me behind my back?
by Jacquie Wise
Have you ever wondered: ‘What do I do if someone is talking about me behind my back?’
Imagine this scenario that was presented to me recently:
You’re new to your job. You rely on your colleagues to pass on work to you that is meaningful. But the only tasks you’re being asked to do by different people are menial tasks.
Another colleague has informed you that they have overheard a person in a key position spreading nasty rumours about you behind your back. For some reason, they’ve taken a dislike to you and they want to sabotage your chances of success in the firm.
It’s hard to block out negative things people say about you, especially if it affects your work relationships and your potential for advancement in the firm. But there are concrete things you can do.
How do you protect yourself?
You need to build a case. Document every menial task you’re given, by whom and when. Keep the details in a portable file that you keep with you at all times so that no one else can access it. For extra protection, you may also like to add a password to the file.
When you ask for work from different people, keep a record of the conversation you have with them.
Talk to the colleague who gave you the feedback that your reputation was being damaged behind your back and find out exactly what they’ve heard and what they know. Keep a record of everything your colleague says.
What action steps can you take?
When you do simple tasks for someone else, see what you can learn by reading everything that comes your way; read reports, company policies and procedures and general documents if you have access to them. I am not suggesting that you rummage through someone’s desk, computer or phone. Take notes if anything is useful. Learn names; record contact details. You never know when they might be useful. Get to know who’s who.
By reading documents and reports you can learn a lot. When you are working on a file, skim through it and see if anything is worth reading to help you in your job.
You need to be seen to take concrete action steps, so that nobody can say you haven’t tried your best. Otherwise they would wonder why you didn’t report the problem. That’s where your evidence comes in. That’s the first step. Building a case.
You need to gather evidence to show your efforts to gain appropriate work and learn new things. Ideally, you also need to know what is being said about you. Get specifics from different people if you can.
Ask them directly: ‘I’ve heard that someone is spreading rumours about me that is affecting the work you choose to give me. Can we discuss this openly? Or simply ask them how come they have no work for you.
The chances are they won’t have the courage to be honest with you, but never mind. You document the conversation and the date. Document the person’s reaction, for example if they looked uncomfortable and avoided eye contact.
Once you have collected evidence, you need to report it
The next step would be to talk to your Human Resources Manager, your own manager, or anyone else in authority. The Human Resources Manager is the one person who acts independently of any other department and is supposed to maintain neutrality.
It’s worth finding out if the person who told you in the first place is willing to come with you to your manager and reveal what is going on.
If and when you choose to leave, your priority is to secure a good reference. You need to identify a trusted supervisor who will be able to speak fairly on your behalf. If necessary, they can refer to the evidence you collected to answer any questions they may be asked and they can also explain how you acted responsibly and proactively in a difficult situation.
If you do not have a trusted supervisor available to you, find another mentor within the firm who has the authority to provide a reference for you as well as give you good advice for the situation.
I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here.
You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.
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