It’s important to be able to trust the people you work with. But if a coworker is telling lies to your boss — or ratting you out for even the smallest mistakes — it can make your work-life miserable. It can also keep you from getting ahead … or anywhere at all in your job.
I normally use this blog to offer advice. And I will add a few of my thoughts at the end. But I’m mostly sharing these stories to help you know you’re not alone. Feel free to add your own experiences.
KB's coworker "friend" story
One of my readers recently told us this in a comment. In this case, it wasn’t a lie being shared, but a truth that she thought was secret:
“Just wanted to share something that happened to me from my previous job. Never trust someone completely!!!
I thought that I had a friend at my previous place of work that I could trust and talk to. I was wrong. Whenever I told this person how I felt about the job and that I probably won’t last long, the information (in detail) was passed onto management for personal gain.
Some food for thought. Why would management trust someone that betrays a friend for personal gain? Wouldn’t that same person do the same with sensitive information from the current job when seeking a new job elsewhere, probably with a competitor?
I hope this experience is of some help. ~ KB”
My own sneaky co-worker story
A similar thing happened to me many years ago. I was brought in to work side-by-side with another manager who welcomed me. He was always helpful and ready to lend an ear — and provide support, or so it at first appeared. Well, it seems the “friendly ear” had a phone line direct to our boss, and was always transmitting bad things about me — things that weren’t true or were conveyed out of context.
Turns out, some of the duties I took on had once been his, and he wanted them back! His plan worked. I eventually left the job. But I never knew his weasily role in all this until after I finally had enough of my boss’s constant criticism and transferred to another department. Gotta say this doesn’t say much for my former boss either. Luckily my next boss was much better.
Beware of workplace secrets
A career coaching client — I’ll call her Sara — told me about something that really unnerved her. The boss who had always thought of Sara as her best ally in the workplace, suddenly turned on her. No longer was she included in the daily meetings. No longer was she welcome to just drop by for a friendly chat. What happened?
A man Sara trusted, someone who was also close to their boss, tricked her into sharing a secret her boss did not want shared. She knows now she was wrong, but he told her that he already knew and wanted to talk about it “for their boss’s protection.” She fell for it.
Once again, turns out jealousy was involved. He resented how close she was to their boss. So he told the boss that Sara spilled the beans. And the boss felt so betrayed by someone she trusted (Sara), she didn’t give Sara a chance to explain. It wasn’t until after Sara left that she realized she’d been set up.
What does all this tell us?
Does this mean we can never trust a co-worker? Are all bosses gullible and easily sold a bunch of lies or doctored truths? And, as KB asks, why would a boss trust someone who in effect is going behind the back of an office friend to make them look bad? I think the answer is not to close up and trust no one. That would be a miserable way to spend so many work hours. We can’t live every moment on guard for the maybe.
But we do need to be aware that people, even people who seem nice on the surface, may have their own agendas. So the best defense may be to stay friendly, but also stay aware. Be your own PR agent (without bragging) by letting your boss and others know about things you’re accomplishing. And be very wary of office gossip and secrets — even if it’s fun to feel part of the inner circle. You could be the next secret.