By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. Several years ago I was accused of falsifying documents by a male coworker. My managers knew my coworker was untrustworthy, so the accusations were ignored. Now my accuser works in another division and talks frequently with my staff. How do I protect myself from a repeat of slander without appearing slanderous myself?
A. You cannot protect yourself from badmouthing. In fact, the more successful, visible or powerful you become, the more you will be negatively gossiped about. Success breeds envy, and envy breeds the desire to destroy what is envied.
You are smart to anticipate your accuser will repeat his behavior. Many executives I coach get into avoidable trouble when they naively give second chances. Social scientists tell us personality is like concrete after age 30. Most folks don't change their spots.
Your best immunity against gossip is to behave with respect, decency and clear boundaries. Encourage workplace relationships with staff and others where problems are brought to you quickly. You are right that if you broadcast your coworker is an unreliable rat - the only reputation you hurt is your own.
It's not cheating, however, if key people have frequent exposure to him to brief them on your history. Saying something like, "Several years ago, Jack told my managers I falsified documents. My managers took no action because they knew Jack was incorrect. I have to believe he took these actions because he had a misunderstanding regarding my work. I do not anticipate he would repeat this behavior."
Now I realize you do anticipate he would repeat this behavior. However, you can know something and stay silent. If you want to protect your reputation, than be the person who is generous and understanding in your descriptions of others. You can still be mad as heck internally.
Most folks are reluctant to believe anyone would really do anything bad to anyone else. It's the old "serial killers can't live in my neighborhood" frame of mind. Even though your coworker obviously had bad intentions, other people won't want to know about it. However, this will eventually work to your advantage because, if your coworker continues to bad mouth you, others will eventually get tired of his nasty stories.
R.L. Wing in the "I Ching Workbook" has advice about the importance of patience in dealing with snakes: "Inferior persons are destroyed by their own evil, for without power, negativity is self-consuming."
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This was printed in the September 25, 2011- October 8, 2011 Edition.