my coworker overheard me trash-talking her

A reader writes:

I talked badly about a coworker behind their back and unbeknownst to me, she overheard and now I feel terrible.

I was complaining about her work ethic, and the coworker I was complaining to had the same complaints. It was things like “She’s done that to you? OMG she has done that to me too, I had to carry the entire load on this project and she did nothing,” etc.

The person we were talking about normally works until 3pm so we thought she was gone. It was 6pm and the office was empty (we thought). She sits in a cubicle diagonal to my coworker’s cubicle, where we were when we were venting unkindly. We heard a giant ruffle of papers from there and both of us fell quiet and then a few minutes later, she walked by us to the sign-out sheet.

We tried to make small talk about looking for candy because we all felt awkward, and she sweetly offered us Snickers that she said she had at her desk. It was a nice gesture that she probably made even though she heard us. I don’t know how much she heard, but the worst case scenario is terrible and the best case scenario still not nice.

I’m so ashamed and embarrassed and yet still not sure what to do. One part of me feels like the complaints are very justified; this person has an awful work ethic and it’s very frustrating to work with her. But another part of me feels I violated my own value system because I’m not normally a person who talks about anyone. Even in high school, where I was not popular, I overheard one of the popular kids saying they would trust lowly me because I had a reputation for never talking badly about anyone. It’s been a lifelong value I’m proud of so it took a little digging to find out why I violated my own boundary. It’s because this person’s egregious behavior over the years has worn away at me and I’m angry. (Everyone on the team is irritated by this, it’s been noticed by all of us.)

I don’t want to feel this way though so it pulls at me, especially because this coworker considers me a friend and ally and sits next to me at meetings. I must look very two-faced by being nice to her in person while secretly harboring judgments and resentment, but I don’t know how to be frosty or honest. Part of me doesn’t want it to be my job to address her performance issues with her (management knows) so I am reluctant to explain myself, but it’s a mean and immature to gossip and I don’t know how to handle this. What is the right thing to do here? Do I apologize and tell her why I complained, or do I keep quiet?

Ooof. I think all of us who have ever talked behind someone’s back are cringing in sympathy right now.

The reality is that most of us do occasionally vent about people who annoy us. I’m not even sure that’s intrinsically a bad thing; when we’re frustrated or upset or demoralized, there’s value in seeking out a connection with another person and talking through the thing that’s bugging us. Obviously, this can go too far, like if you’re being petty or mean-spirited, or if the venting becomes so frequent that it keeps you mired in negativity (as prolonged venting has a way of doing), or if you don’t consider whether you’re truly in private (ahem). But sometimes venting is a way of better understanding and coping with a frustration.

So one question for you before you do much more self-flagellation is whether you were really just gossiping and being unkind, or whether there was anything constructive about your conversation. You were speaking critically of a co-worker, yes, but you were also talking about something that’s a legitimate work problem.

That doesn’t change the fact that you were overheard by the last person you would have wanted to hear you. But it might help you stop beating yourself up quite so much.

As for what to do now … Well, you can say something to your co-worker or you can not say something, so let’s look at both of those options.

Saying something feels to me like the right thing to do. It’s taking responsibility for what happened, and it’s stopping an awkward thing from festering unaddressed. Things will be awkward in a different way if you address it, of course, but discomfort in the service of owning up to something is usually better than the discomfort of just pretending it didn’t happen.

If you do decide to say something, you could approach it this way: “I want to apologize to you. I think you may have overheard a conversation the other day where I was complaining about some projects you were involved in. I was blowing off steam, but it’s no excuse. The reality is, I’ve been frustrated when we’ve worked on projects together and I felt that I ended up with more than my share of the work. But I should have talked with you directly about my frustrations rather than talk to someone else about it.”

Of course, the downside to doing that is that you’re not 100 percent sure if she really heard you or not. If you apologize to her and it turns out that she didn’t hear you after all, now you’ll have made things awkward for her when they didn’t need to be.

But either way, maybe there’s some value in being transparent with her that her work habits have caused problems for you. I hear you that it’s not your job to address her performance issues — and it’s not — but since your management apparently isn’t acting (or isn’t acting very quickly), there’s no reason that you can’t say, “Hey, this impacts me.” In fact, that’s especially true because you mentioned that this co-worker sees you as a friend and an ally. Given that, it’s arguably more unkind to keep her in the dark about how frustrated you are with her.

The other option is not to say anything and just let it go. I’m not a big fan of this route when you may have hurt someone. In theory, you could argue that if your co-worker willfully shirks work and leaves others to pick up her slack, she shouldn’t be shocked if people are unhappy with her. And maybe if relations between the two of you were already chilly, that would justify just letting this go and moving forward without addressing it with her. But in a context where she thinks of you as a friend, I think it’s probably cruel.

So that leaves you with needing to say something. It’s not going to be a fun conversation, but I think you’ll feel relieved after you have it — and frankly, I think your current sense of shame and mortification are nudging you to do it.

It’s even possible that you both might come out the better for it, if it pushes you to address the problems she’s caused you and it gets her to hear that her work habits are hurting people she likes.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

{ 159 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    Alison’s right–at least there is a silver lining since it may help to get her to pull her own weight from here. Good luck, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Please remember to come back and give us an update!

  2. Emi.*

    I like the script Alison offers! It does include “I was blowing off steam” and an explanation of why OP felt so upset (which is important), but it *ends* on the apology. That’s crucial–it’s the difference between an apology and a non-apology.

  3. Jesmlet*

    I wish I was the type of person who had the integrity and courage to say something after this happens but honestly, I’m just not. I’d be terrified that she didn’t actually hear anything and I’d be making it worse, and would probably justify it to myself by saying that everything that was said was factual and that it’s something she needed to hear (depending on the severity of what was said).

    I think everyone has probably gotten fed up with someone at work and vented to a coworker at one point. If it’s a real problem that’s felt by everyone and purely work related, don’t beat yourself up too much. Addressing it is probably the right thing to do so good luck if you choose to go that route.

    As an aside, I’m curious what kind of cubicle job she has that she can just leave at 3pm every day. Sounds nice… unless it’s part of the bad work ethic thing.

    1. TL -*

      Or she might come in at 6 or 7 am to leave at 3 pm – I know people who have done that (or who work less than full time or take work home). My guess is she picks kids up from school if she’s leaving at 3 every day.

    2. SJ*

      If the office has flexible hours, it’s not too unusual. My dad is a claims analyst and works 7-3 every day (he gets to miss the worst of the traffic!).

          1. Jesmlet*

            Didn’t realize it was so common! I’ve never worked anywhere where that could be an option. Genuinely curious what kinds of companies have core hours that end at 3. Even if I got all my work done before then, I’ve always worked places where I had to be available to answer the phone if a client or coworker needed anything.

            1. LavaLamp*

              I work for a construction company. Around here as long as you work 8 hours they generally don’t care when those 8 hours are within reason. I get to leave by 2:30-3 each day as well because I get in at 6.

            2. Photoshop Til I Drop*

              Being available to colleagues in other time zones was a major reason for my offset schedule at an old job. So, answering the phone for people who could never remember to account for anything other than EST!

            3. Jessesgirl72*

              My husband has had it in all 3 jobs he’s held. One in aerospace (super traditional and conservative, except for that!), one in generic embedded systems, and one in industrial automation. He has collaborated with coworkers and customers in all 3 jobs- which is why there are core hours at all. Those core hours are when you’re supposed to schedule meetings and be availble, and he, too, in the first and current jobs has had to be available to talk to international contractors or clients, where the typical 8-5/9-6 hours weren’t convenient anyway.

            4. ThatGirl*

              I work at a wholesale workplace supplier, in marketing services – we have rough core hours of 10-2 and some people work 6-3, some 10-6:30, etc. I work 7:30 to 3:30 myself.

            5. Koko*

              I work for a nonprofit marketing department and we have flexible hours. It’s nothing formal, but the culture is as long as you’re in by 10 and stay til at least 3:30 you can set your own schedule, whether it’s working 7:30-3:30 in the office, 10-6 in the office, or 8-9 at home, 10-3:30 in the office and 4:30-6 at home.

              We are also expected to be flexible if key meetings need to be scheduled before 10 or after 3:30. Those are always scheduled at least a couple of weeks in advance so someone who normally comes in early and leaves at 3:30 can plan ahead to come in later if they have to stay for a big meeting. People try to avoid scheduling meetings for first and last thing of the day unless there’s no other option that works for the whole group, so it doesn’t come up too often.

            6. Karo*

              My experience with it has been that you need to have back up, or have some way for people to be able to contact you. So I can leave at 4, but I have a co-worker with very similar knowledge who stays until 5:30 and fields important questions after I leave for the day. If there’s a legit emergency they call me and I handle whatever it is, but I can only think of one time where that happened.

            7. Kyrielle*

              Same deal, software engineering – I need to overlap everyone else for discussions, knowledge exchange, collaboration, meetings, etc., but 90% of my job is producing output that arrives when it is supposed to (everything from design documents to actual code to tests), and when I do that stuff doesn’t matter. (Practically speaking, having it overlap more rather than less is good in terms of back-and-forth for review, but that’s the fact that the other 10% of my job isn’t all amenable to being scheduled, not a shift in the overall balance.)

            8. LS*

              I’m in product/UX design at a bank and our core hours are 9am-3pm. I try to work from 7am-3pm so that I can fetch my kids from school a few days a week. But it’s very flexible – even the core hours are more of a guideline.

            9. MashaKasha*

              I’ve known a lot of people, some of them my coworkers, who worked 6-3 or 7-4. Never tried that myself, because I am an office owl and the only way I can be at work at six AM is if I never left the night before. But it’s a fairly common thing.

              Of course the downside is that, while no one objects to you coming into work at six, you can very frequently get roped into an impromptu meeting or “just a quick question”, or an emergency issue etc, when you try to leave at 3. Another reason why I’ve never had the desire to try this kind of schedule.

              1. cncx*

                this is what made me stop 7-3 at my old job: i kept getting “urgent” requests or “impromptu meetings” and before i knew it my hours were 7 to 5:30, just because my coworkers couldn’t lead organized lives.

            10. ALICE*

              Long ago I worked in an office at luxury auto dealer. The mechanics because at 7am, and as such we could choose to come in between 7-9am to begin our days. I always came in at 7:30 and worked until 4:30 (hour off for lunch) if I chose to skip lunch, I would leave at 3:30.

            11. SignalLost*

              I worked for a division of a very large you company that had core hours from 10-2. It helped the people who came in at 4 to liaise with the East Coast (we’re West Coast) and the late risers. I really liked the flexibility. Some days I came in at six and other days at nine.

            12. Simonthegreywarden*

              I am a professional tutor and adjunct. I leave my tutoring position between 2 and 2:30, but I teach before that and in the evenings.

            13. shep*

              I have flex hours and work at a state agency, but we have really great employee benefits and agency policies. However, mileage with this kind of thing, as I’m sure many government employees can attest, varies WIDELY from one agency to the next. I really like my agency and consider myself lucky.

              1. Delightful Daisy*

                Also at a state agency. Our hours are 7:30-4 w/ 1/2 hour lunch, or 8-5 w/an hour lunch. We have a few people that work public desks and therefore have to stay until 5 but the majority of our office works 7:30-4. We do have one or two people that work 7-3:30. I’m trying to get into the “leaving at 4 is ok” mindset even though I’ve been here for a few years. Too many years of working the traditional 9-5 or longer. :-)

            14. KH*

              I work for an IT company. We work not only at our home office but also at customer site. They are pretty flexible about where you are working – many people, including senior managers, take phone meetings from their cars while driving (I could never do that, but to each his own?) or just about anywhere else. Work from home is not necessarily encouraged but it is accepted so long as one spends a reasonable amount of time at the office. Most people try to schedule meetings earlier in the day to let people leave by 3 or 4pm. We typically sign in from home and get more work done.

              I wish more companies were like this. This is not a given thing even in the IT industry, but it is a welcome gesture toward work/life balance, and we all know how much a privilege it is and do our best to not abuse it.

    3. Esperanza*

      We have an employee who worked out a deal with her boss to work 7 – 3. But the problem is that since it’s her job to assist others, there is nothing to do before 9. She comes in and does nothing for two hours, and then she gets to leave at 3. Everyone feels resentful when they see her peace out early — especially because her work ethic is terrible in general (she spends more time gossiping on the phone than working).

      So leaving at 3 could be part of the problem. It depends on the type of work she does and whether she actually gets things done before everyone else comes in.

      1. some1*

        This is my former coworker. Not only was she allowed to work 7 – 3:30 at a job where she needed to assist people from 8 -4, she had private appointment at least every other week where she left the office early, and instead of taking PTO she was allowed to come in even earlier to make up the time, so instead of having nothing to do for two hours, she would have nothing to do for three hours or longer.

        1. Artemesia*

          Every workplace problem is bad management. This is on the idiot manager who allowed a schedule like this. Would they let the receptionist work 6 to 2?

      2. Temperance*

        One of the secretaries at my firm has a special arrangement where she works from 5:00 – 11:00 a.m. every other Friday. She is productive during the early time, though, because she reaches out to her attorneys early the previous day and asks for work.

    4. michelenyc*

      I can tell you that a very large footwear/apparel company in the PNW has these types of hours for a lot of their positions. A lot of people work the 6-3, 7-4, or 8-5.

    5. Xay*

      When I was working full time and going to grad school part time, I would work in the office from 8a-3p, go to class and then work from home for a few hours in the evening.

    6. GiantPanda*

      We have flex time between 6am and 8pm. Everybody is there for scheduled meetings, somebody needs to be reachable between 7am and 6pm (not a problem in a team of 8). Most of us like to come early, I tend to sleep in and show up between 10 and 11.

  4. Zip Silver*

    I’m of the opinion that OP should just never bring it up.

    If the coworker didn’t hear, then no harm, no foul. If the coworker did indeed hear, then she is now fully aware of what she needs to do differently, or at least knows that she has a reputation for being the lazy one in the office.

    Cowards way out? Maybe. But I doubt OP would be as direct as she was during the venting conversation, and I think bringing it up is just asking for an argument.

    1. ZenJen*

      I’ll politely disagree with you–I think the OP does need to address the issue. I’d be very surprised if the coworker didn’t hear it. People hear a LOT in cubicles, and at 6pm there is significantly less ambient noise to get in the way.
      Even if the OP’s mgmt is going ostrich on the coworker’s performance issues, it doesn’t mean that the OP needs to sit there and just pick up the coworker’s slack.
      If I was the OP, I’d definitely address the issue with the coworker, and I LOVE Alison’s script to turn it into constructive feedback.

    2. Alli525*

      But what about mitigating the damage done to a once-good working relationship? Let’s assume she overheard at least part of the venting – if I were that coworker, I would never trust OP again unless s/he acknowledged the situation.

      1. Lissa*

        Whereas, I would prefer she never bring it up and would not significantly lose trust in her for doing something I believe most of us have done at one point. Not saying either of us is right, just that there’s no *sure* way to mitigate the damage, because what one person prefers will not be what someone else does!

        If I were that coworker, I’d be more mortified with myself for having that reputation than I would be mad at my coworker. (Assuming all the talk was about work stuff.)

        1. Engineer Girl*

          “Most of us have done that” is an excuse by the guilty to avoid repairing the damage. You still need to do the right thing.

          1. Lissa*

            Sure. But that would be my preference as a coworker. I think people often toss out “do the right thing” as though that thing was immediately obvious and clear, and someone can either choose to Do The Right Thing or choose to Do The Wrong Thing. But often someone does what they believe is the right thing and it turns out the other person doesn’t agree.

            Eh. I don’t think the coworker will have an epiphany over this statement, but I know what my reaction would be, and seeing as how none of us have a deep insight into coworker’s psyche, she could be more like me, or more like other posters who would rather it be brought up.

            1. Original LW*

              I love this (thanks Lissa!):

              “I think people often toss out “do the right thing” as though that thing was immediately obvious and clear, and someone can either choose to Do The Right Thing or choose to Do The Wrong Thing. But often someone does what they believe is the right thing and it turns out the other person doesn’t agree.”

              I’m the original LW and thank you for this succinct and kind way of pointing out reality. I also really appreciate everyone weighing in here. There’s been a lot of food for thought.

              I still haven’t said anything because I’m caught in an in-between place of being afraid of making it worse vs. the right thing but this post has been very illuminating and I appreciate hearing all these various points of view.

              The coworker hasn’t acted any differently which is strange because if they did overhear, wouldn’t they be cold or avoidant? I can’t tell if that is an indication they did overhear, or they just chose to be the bigger person. I’m leaning towards the former but not sure.

        2. Jesmlet*

          It’s probably a toss-up for what the coworker would prefer if she did in fact overhear. I would prefer it not be mentioned if I were her. I’d just do some self-reflecting and work hard at addressing the issues. Others would want the apology and maybe a discussion or further explanation. Since we don’t know what the coworker would prefer, it’s probably better to just apologize since even if it was purely objective, feelings were probably hurt and that’s the right thing to do.

          1. Snowshoe*

            Jesmlet’s response is probably the most attuned, emotionally compassionate answer. Apologies should always be to restore some sense of emotional balance to the person that you hurt and acknowledge that they deserves to be treated with consideration and dignity, NOT about alleviating *yourself* of guilt or awkwardness. Most comments are focused on The Right Thing or The Wrong Thing, but it is my belief that The Right Thing is the thing that does not further hurt your coworkers feelings.

            So, take a look at what you know about your co-worker. Past behaviors, things she’s said. *How* you see the awkwardness occurring. You probably caused this person to experience shame. Would an apology further embarrass or shame her? Do you get a sense of if she is looking for an apology, or does it seem like she could be trying to avoid one? Are things awkward like “awkward bc I (hurt coworker) really want to talk about it but don’t have the words to approach you about it first”? Let empathy be your aid. If it were me, I would 100% not prefer the apology. Think about it, take your best guess, and move on- that’s all you can do!

            As far as the work issue part of this goes, you could probably just put it off until your interactions become more normal. That might be an appropriate time to say “Hey, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about X (issue) and Y (issue). I should have gotten around to it sooner but…” Then if she says “I know, I heard you talking to ___ about it a few months ago” you have a very strong indicator that she is ready for/would like an apology.

            1. Original LW*

              This is fantastic, I’m copying and pasting this into my phone as a script to guide me while weighing this out. Thank you!

        3. Observer*

          It’s highly unlikely that the coworker has now had an epiphany that she’s a rotten co-worker with a justly deserved reputation as a slacker. And, even in the extremely unlikely case that it did hit her that way, she is still almost certainly upset and angry – She’s going to be thinking about how two faced the OP and other co-worker are. “If it bothers her so much, why didn’t she talk to me instead of smiling at me while she spends her time gossiping about me?”

          1. Darcy*

            It’s been my experience that unless I tell someone directly how their job performance (or non-performance) is impacting me; they just assume I’m being “mean” if I’m frustrated. Once I make it clear how what they’re doing is actually impacting my ability to do my job, that’s when the self-reflection has occurred.

      2. Sadsack*

        Trust her in what way? If OP and her coworker were making valid complaints about her work habits, she now knows how she comes across and can consider making changes. Or she may disagree with their characterizations based in information they didn’t have about those instances. In that case she may also consider handling things differently in the future, or not.

        1. Roscoe*

          Exactly, I think there is a big difference between expressing valid work concerns and attacking someone personally. Assuming all of the complaints were of a professional nature, I don’t know what trust was broken

    3. LSP*

      I’m not sure overhearing a conversation that you were never supposed to hear would be enough to get someone to change their work habits. If it were me, I’d just feel as if they were being mean/petty. However, if I received the same information in a more formal/kinder way, that would have a very different impact.

        1. Shazbot*

          If you’re gossiping in an office environment, it’s prudent to assume that everything was overheard. To assume otherwise means, on some level, you (the gossiper) are more clever and sneaky than you actually are…since you were, after all, gossiping without realizing someone was listening. File it under: You Are Not A Ninja. It’s better, and shows more integrity, to follow up and address what you said and make appropriate apologies.

          1. Shazbot*

            Minus one on editing skillz. I meant to say, “To assume otherwise means, on some level, you (the gossiper) THINK you are more clever and sneaky than you actually are”

            My kingdom for an edit button.

            1. Original LW*

              Ha! You were perfectly eloquent, and really good point. One of my favorite podcasts is “You Are Not So Smart” which is aptly named and a good general rule of thumb applying to me.

    4. Marisol*

      I think people pick up more readily on gossip that is about them, at least I do. The few times in my life I’ve heard people talk about me when they thought I wasn’t there, I had a sixth-sense like awareness that I should tune into what I was hearing, in a way that wouldn’t have happened with other ambient noise. Even if my name isn’t spoken, there is something in the furtive tone that makes me stop and pay attention. I happen to be hypersensitive due to having adhd, but I would assume most people are like this to some degree. My point being that the coworker probably did hear at least some of what was said.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree with you about having a sixth sense. I did not realize I had it until I got with a group of people who just did not back stab each other. I didn’t have a knot in my stomach and I thought,”Was is different here?”

        My wise friend used to say that many people can “feel” when others have been gossiping about them. Generally it feels like a negative vibe, but in reality people tend to act differently around the person they have been gossiping about. It’s tiny differences but sometimes it’s noticeable.

        1. Marisol*

          yeah, it could be a split-second expression or posture that the gossiper takes and somehow it registers. probably a survival instinct from when humans were more dependent on their tribes and social disapproval could result in death. the recipient doesn’t necessarily see it consciously but feels the vibe.

          1. Original LW*

            Wow, really interesting point. Yikes. I’m terrible at concealing my awkwardness and feelings so I’m sure I was acting odd and it was visible. :(

    5. KH*

      I agree to not say anything – You can apologize through your actions. Be kind and warm to the employee – even if it’s just a little more than you usually are. If the employee overheard you, she will recognize that you still value them as a person and coworker even with these frustrations. she might even take heart and change a little.
      If the employee did not overhear you, there’s no harm in being nice, is there?

      1. Original LW*

        I like this — I haven’t said anything yet but I have resolved to be kinder and more empathetic in general because this felt like a bit of a wake up call. I’m usually of the philosophy that the more people understand about each other to a level of depth, the less polarized and divisive they are. My frustration is a sign that the antidote, empathy, is necessary.

  5. People!!*

    I like Alison’s script, especially the line at the end: “But I should have talked with you directly about my frustrations rather than talk to someone else about it.” With this, even if the coworker didn’t hear the complaints, now OP has an opening to address the frustrations constructively. So it’s *almost* a win-win.

  6. sarah*

    I think the script is really good. I was once in a similar situation complaining about a (admittedly truly terrible) professor with a friend, when we realized he was walking right behind us! It was incredibly awkward, and while I did have real complaints about this professor, I obviously would have wanted to communicate that in a more professional manner. Although it felt really awkward, I did end up doing something similar to Allison’s advice and apologizing while also voicing my concerns in a more appropriate manner. I can’t say it was the most fun conversation of my life, but the professor was actually very gracious about it and it allowed me to continue going to class and walking past him in the hall without constantly being stressed about it.

  7. M_Lynn*

    This may be more psychological with the OP, but I think it would also help to reframe this as NOT like high school. I totally support your ethical and moral integrity in the workplace, but you weren’t just talking trash about someone in your social circle like you would in school. Based on what you said, those are legitimate complaints in a workplace and it’s appropriate for the woman to be held accountable for. I think Alison’s answer get to this same point- that there is still a workplace problem to be addressed beyond the incident of her overhearing you complain, but so it may help to consciously reframe the problem in your head.

    1. LSP*

      Exactly. I’ve worked in places that were very much like high school, where my boss was a “mean girl” and talked behind my back about my clothes, my hobbies, pretty much everything, and was either really bad at hiding her gossip about me, or just didn’t care. It was never work-related. It was always personal and cruel.

      That is not what OP is talking about here. You weren’t personally attacking someone. You were venting about a work frustration, just like you might about construction blocking parking spaces, or a change to the health insurance plan. In this case, though, the complaints are tied to a person, and that person does deserve the uncomfortable conversation Alison is suggesting. However, it doesn’t sound to me like you were just being mean. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it.

      1. Marisol*

        +1 to both of you. I think if I overheard such a conversation, I’d have a shame attack, which, as unpleasant as that would be, would motivate me to examine my work behavior. I would honestly look at my own negligence before blaming the coworkers for “being mean.”

        1. Shazbot*

          If I overheard something like that about me, I’d come out of my cubicle and walk right into the conversation: “Hi! Heard my name! What’s up?” If they had actual issues they wanted to talk about, great! If not, I have no problem breaking up the gossip party. They didn’t know I could hear them? Too damn bad.

      2. Venus Supreme*

        Exactly- at my college, there were a group of terribly mean girls who handed out nicknames to people they disliked: Rhino Nose (someone had a big nose), Toe Salsa (apparently she smelled like toe salsa?), etc. I had the marvelous privilege of living with them one school year. It was terrible. One of them continues the antics and works with kids now.

        OP, forgive yourself- you were healthily venting about work-related issues, not dissing your coworker because of petty reasons. People are not at their “best” 24/7, and you’re human!

        1. Annie Moose*

          Oh come on! They missed a golden opportunity to use the nickname “Rhinose” there.

          But I suppose puns are too much to ask from high school mean girls. :P

    2. Caroline*

      Completely agree, although in my experience, when there is an underperforming, infuriatingly incompetent person in the office that causes people to complain to each other about that person’s work, it can devolve into complaining about that person in ways that really don’t have to do with work.

      I had this happen at my last workplace–one colleague, “Roberta” had a terrible work ethic and was terrible at her job even when she did manage to complete work. She made everyone’s job harder, especially mine, because of her flakiness and incompetence. Everyone was against Roberta. She was a uniting force in the office because everyone bonded over complaining about her. Towards the end of my time there, it started to get really personal, with a lot of comments about her diet, her personal life, etc. I tried to stay out of it when it started to go that way, but the entire environment was so toxic that the lines between “bad work behavior” and “gossip about someone we don’t like” started to get kind of blurry.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is what happens when management does not manage. The crew turns in on itself. I bet if Roberta left the crew would just pick the next person and carry on.

      2. Fish Microwaver*

        We have a Roberta in my office too. Unfortunately, despite being incompetent and a poor communicator with a lousy work ethic, she comes across as thinking she is better than the rest of us. She also never misses an opportunity to try throwing our office under the bus to TPTB. My colleague and I are working on a plan of action for when we have to manage her over the holidays when the boss is away.

      3. Original LW*

        I’m not proud of having these thoughts (although thank goodness I didn’t voice them aloud), but when my other coworker and I were having our gossip session, my thoughts did escalate to personal ones I also found annoying. I’m really happy I didn’t say them, but I thought them. It’s easy to go there.

  8. My 2 Cents*

    One time in grad school I emailed the head of the graduate program about something, and mentioned problems that others were having with another professor. I had to get that other professor involved in this issue, and he asked me to forward the email I had sent to head of program on to him so he could see it. I realized that I had said unkind things about professor, so I addressed it in my forward instead of letting him just discover it on my own. When professor and I later met, he asked me what the problem was that other students were having with him, and we were able to have an honest conversation about it. I don’t think he had any clue that he was having problems with the other students, so he was thankful to find out, even in less than ideal circumstances, so it’s not always a bad thing that the car slips out of the bag unintentionally.

  9. irritable vowel*

    Yeah, you gotta say something. I think Alison’s script is excellent. If you want to first give yourself an out in case she didn’t actually overhear, you could start by saying something like “I have a bad feeling you may have overheard something inappropriate the other day.” If you misunderstood and she didn’t hear you, she won’t know what you’re talking about. And it also gives her the opportunity to signal to you if she doesn’t want to discuss it, by pretending she doesn’t know what you’re talking about. This is about making her feel better more than making you feel better (the latter should hopefully be a side effect of the former), and if what makes her feel best is to not discuss it, you’re giving her the opportunity to say so.

    1. ZVA*

      This is a great suggestion! I commented something similar below before reading yours but I like your wording way better.

      1. Nellie*

        But then what comes after that? If she looks confused or says no, does the OP just say “Oh never mind then”. It seems unfair to put the onus on the coworker to decide whether to discuss it, particularly if the OP appears reluctant to do so. I realize this is in the event that the coworker didn’t hear, but I’m just not sure there is a way to both bring it up and *not* bring it up.

        1. Original LW*

          Really great wording! I’d be tempted (this is just my honest thought, not necessarily what is right or what I’ll do) to have a “backup” issue that’s much more mild. It’s a terrible conflict-avoidant thought.

  10. Kathleen Adams*

    If this were just a co-worker, I think the OP acting as though the other person hadn’t heard anything would be OK. But the OP says this person considers her a friend. Ooooooh, not good. That moves it, IMO, out of the “co-worker overhearing important truths” category and into the “woman hearing her friend say nasty things about her behind her back” category.

    1. MK*

      I agree. Frankly, I don’t think this would be so bad if this was a co-worker the OP had a distant work relationship with, or someone who knew the OP has had issues with their work. But by their own admission the OP was nice to this person, knew they considered her a friend and justifies herself for being hypocritical with “I can’t be frosty”?

      If you despise someone as much as the OP this coworker, it’s seriously problematic to be so nice that they consider you a friend. You don’t have to dulk or be rude, but distant professionalism should not be beyond a working adult.

      1. catsAreCool*

        We don’t know if the OP is super friendly to the coworker, or if the OP is politely friendly, and the coworker thinks more of it than there is.

        1. Original LW*

          Thank you for pointing this out.

          I consider myself to be politely friendly and supportive but I try to be that way to everyone I work with. If someone needs assistance, I will help — it’s in the interest of our work. If I see them in the hall I will be friendly. I put personal feelings aside and I try to treat people respectfully when interacting. (It wasn’t respectful to “vent” about her behind her back, I know, but I also know people at work who, when they don’t like someone, will act cold or mean and while they are at least being true to themselves, I don’t feel it’s conducive to a good working environment so I can’t be like that.) But I don’t really have feelings of close, personal friendship nor want to pursue one. I don’t really like this person personally but they may feel more is there than me.

    2. Kate*

      For me the difference is more that the OP didn’t, by her own example, say “nasty things”. The OP didn’t call her names or say she was a bad person. She stated, factually, the past events, i.e. the coworker not doing any work on partnered projects.

  11. The Southern Gothic*

    The OP doesn’t mention if management is aware of how the team feels about the co-worker’s “work ethic” and how it effects everyone. Sometimes venting to each other is necessary and sometimes is has a way of reinforcing the bad morale instead. Maybe venting to a manager would alleviate the problem?

    1. Oh what, oh what, oh what*

      Actually it would appear that management does know.

      “Part of me doesn’t want it to be my job to address her performance issues with her (management knows)”

      1. The Southern Gothic*

        Ugh. In that case, I understand why the OP is venting to her friend. Management does not appear to want to remedy the problem, despite it getting in the way of OP’s work.

  12. Former Retail Manager*

    I think Alison’s advice is great and I too would suggest you speak to her. Because as bad as it may be coming from a co-worker, it would be many times worse coming from her manager. I’m assuming that since it sounds like other people have always covered for the co-worker by doing more than their fair share, the manager likely doesn’t know that the offender isn’t pulling her weight. This could be a blessing in disguise to all parties. I can attest that I’d much rather a co-worker tell me this sort of thing than my manager who writes my evaluation. Also, for me personally, how my co-workers perceive me is just as important as how my manager perceives me. It would be a punch in the gut for me to find out that more than one co-worker felt I hadn’t pulled my weight and it would certainly jolt m into action.

  13. JMegan*

    Aw, OP. Don’t beat yourself up too much – I think most of us have made a mistake like that at one point or another. I’m in the “talk to her” camp, because if it were me, I’d never be able to sleep again wondering if she had overheard. If you talk to her, it will still be awkward, but at least it will be over.

    Also, I want to caution you against framing her behaviour as a question of “work ethic,” even in your own mind. There could be dozens of reasons that her work isn’t necessarily up to par. She could be going through a divorce, or be worried about money, or have an ill family member, or who knows what – none of which has anything to do with her work ethic. The most likely thing is that she’s doing the best work she can *at this moment in time,* not that she’s deliberately slacking off and not caring about it.

    So in your own mind, and especially when (or if) you talk to her, try to think about her actual work, and the impact it’s having on your work. Her motivation and ethics are not really the issue here. Besides which, they might be outside of her control, and they are almost certainly private. So keep the focus on the outcome you want, rather than worrying about what’s behind the current state of affairs. This will have two benefits. One, it will be a much easier conversation with your coworker, and more likely to produce good results. And two, it’s much kinder, which benefits both of you – I bet you’ll be less inclined to gossip about her if you keep her perspective in mind.

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      OP says it’s been a very long time, but yes – focus on work *product* or process, not perception of “work ethic.”

    2. TootsNYC*

      So in your own mind, and especially when (or if) you talk to her, try to think about her actual work, and the impact it’s having on your work. Her motivation and ethics are not really the issue here. Besides which, they might be outside of her control, and they are almost certainly private. So keep the focus on the outcome you want, rather than worrying about what’s behind the current state of affairs.


      This is important.

      Talk about behaviors and actions, not motivation and feelings.
      Focus on the results you want, not the things that might be causing the problem.

      So don’t say, “your divorce has you distracted” or “your work ethic is bad”; say “you come back to ask questions several times instead of gathering the information from the first email–it’s in there!” or “I need you to promptly do the things we discussed.”

  14. ZVA*

    I agree that the OP should probably apologize, but wonder if she shouldn’t ask whether or not the coworker overheard her before doing so? Something like “Hey, when you were in the office the other night, did you happen to overhear ___ and I talking?” If the answer is yes, you can apologize; if the answer is no, though, you could say “Oh okay, I ask because we were blowing off some steam about work and didn’t realize anyone else was there—I would have been embarrassed if anyone overheard!” Or something like that. I don’t know. Maybe that would be even weirder than just apologizing…? But if there’s a chance she didn’t hear you, you might want to hedge your bets.

    1. LSP*

      This is good for dealing with OP’s discomfort, but does nothing to address the coworker’s issues that led to the venting in the first place. This is definitely a good script to start, but at some point (in the near future) OP needs to find a way to address having to cover for her coworker continuously.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      i don’t know about this script. If someone came to me and said “hey, did you hear what I said yesterday” I might say “nah” and go on with my day as if nothing happened…but then if they rambled on with some excuse I knew was false that would do more damage that just not saying anything at all or walking away.

    3. Mike C.*

      If I was being asked that and said no, I would be immediately suspicious. I don’t think there’s a half-measure here – either you apologize or you don’t.

      1. Original LW*

        I liked this idea best because it was a get out of jail free card but you’re right, she may not admit she overheard and that would make it worse.

  15. Engineer Girl*

    I’m going to disagree with a lot of the advice, because it doesn’t address the root cause. This situation came about because of OP’s failure to address the problem correctly.
    The real problem is that the OP never addressed the performance issues with her coworker. I’m talking about the performance issues that impacted the OP’s job. OP should have had a conversation with coworker about that. “Hey Jane, when you don’t do X by noon, it does Y to me.” Then have a conversation about it. At that point, you’ve given Jane a chance to fix things. At this point, Jane knows about the issues.
    Instead, OP, you chose the passive aggressive approach and gossiped. You’ve broken trust with your coworker and there will be no way to get it back until you have the conversation that you avoided. Now that conversation will be worse, because there are two things to talk about – how her performance impacts you AND your breach of trust. I suggest that you apologize first so you can have an honest discussion about the second issue.
    I also want to take issue with OP’s statements, because OP isn’t owning the actions:

    I violated my own boundary. It’s because this person’s egregious behavior over the years has worn away at me and I’m angry

    Nope. It’s because you didn’t have a conversation with the person about this. That kept you from resolving the problem.

    But another part of me feels I violated my own value system because I’m not normally a person who talks about anyone

    Weak point exposed – you are that person, you just have a different level of tolerance than others. Work on talking to people to address issues instead of talking behind their backs.
    I’d like to suggest “Crucial Conversations” as a great book. When you address small problems head on they usually don’t get to the serious relationship breaking level.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I also want to point out that learning how to discuss gaps in performance is a great life skill that you will need more an more as you get older. You may get promoted (which means you’ll need the skills) or you may have kids (which means you’ll need the skills). Start practicing these skills now so that they are in top form for when you really need them.

      1. AD*

        Engineer Girl, some of your points are valid but OP is not this person’s manager and I think “breaking trust” is a little harsh here.
        There are a couple of ways of dealing with a co-worker whose work ethic is not ideal, but I’d argue that it’s not incumbent on a colleague to address performance management issues – that’s ultimately a manager’s role and it sounds like that hasn’t been happening here. OP could have had a direct conversation with this employee at some point and said “You know, Jane, when I don’t get X from you in time, I cannot do Y”. But it’s not their job to do that (it feels like you think it is).

        1. Engineer Girl*

          This is NOT a management issue until the OP has addressed the impacts on her job. A coworker always should have the first conversation when there is a performance issue that impacts them. If it is ignored, then go to the manager.
          And gossiping about someone behind their back about issues that you haven’t talked about? Absolutely breaking trust.

          1. Gaara*

            But if they’re bad at their job, it’s *also* a management issue, even if it’s true that you should talk to your coworkers first if their poor performance is affecting you.

          2. AD*

            Umm…no. It very clearly is (from what OP has written) a performance issue that should be addressed first and foremost by her manager. Not by her co-worker.
            I have never heard it said that weak performers need to be addressed for their performance issues by colleagues first.
            As Alison said, this isn’t exactly gossip (“her hair is awful! have you seen her tacky clothes?”) and more venting about workplace problems and issues (“she really has trouble sticking to deadlines”). There’s a difference there.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Wait, no. As a manager, I absolutely don’t want employees not cluing me into work-impact issues because they think they’re obligated to try to address them themselves first.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      Well, it’s not either/or. The person’s behavior has worn away at the OP, and she’s angry. It’s quite possible the problems would have been resolved if she’d talked to her coworker, but it’s equally possible that they wouldn’t have. And as responsible at the OP is for speaking up, the coworker is even more responsible for not carrying her work. I completely, totally agree with you that the OP should have spoken up before now. But it’s not fair to say that her feelings of anger and exhaustion are all/only because she hasn’t talked to the coworker about the problems.

      Also, she didn’t say she’s not the type of person who ever talks about anyone–she said she’s the type of person who doesn’t normally do that. And she obviously feels terrible about it, so I don’t think it adds anything to say “aha! You’re a terrible person after all just like everyone else!”

      You make some good points, but I don’t agree with how you’ve characterized the OP or her situation.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        Yes. Paragraph 1. Talking/addressing doesn’t always solve problems and in fact just make you more frustrated over time.

        I have a co-worker who drives me batty on joint projects because she is a work diverter (among many things) and has been known to correct someone publicly on an issue she doesn’t know much about only to actually be the one in the wrong.

        First my boss approached her about it (she reports to someone else for 75% of her job) but the behavior continued. So I talked to her about it – three times. Her boss won’t talk to her about it because he sucks and working with me isn’t the % of her job that he is responsible for.

        I just avoid her. And vent like a mo-fo to one other person who gets it. Difference is that she and I are not friends.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          But the person was given the opportunity to correct it. That’s the difference. Gossiping about someone when you haven’t talked to them about it is just plain passive aggressive.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            Respectfully disagree. Personally, I do not think performance issues are my area to address with my co-workers. I have no problem talking with them but only after cluing in management. Co-worker may be doing things as instructed and I may be the one that needs to make adjustments.

            Regardless, if my manager found out I was addressing performance without cluing her in first I’d likely be the one in the wrong. She might not stop me, but she would certainly want to know about it in case of blow back.

    3. KR*

      I tend to agree with the others that OP isn’t solely responsible for resolving the problem. Other people on the team have noticed and have to work with this person and if OP is hesitant to talk about someone behind their back and has done so, you can bet some of her chattier coworkers have already talked about it to each other. If OP isn’t this person’s manager, I don’t think it was necessarily a failure to not address her concerns with the coworker – sometimes the person has more seniority or they’re harder to be frank with or they might not understand why what they’re doing at work isn’t okay and that makes it hard to have those kinds of conversations as a coworker. That’s why her manager is there.

      Also, it would be great if OP could do this differently but she can’t go back in time. She seems to be very mortified and sorry for her actions, so maybe we should be focusing on what she should do to say she’s sorry.

    4. Althea*

      I disagree with this. If OP was working on a project with the coworker, and was saying, “I need X by Y date,” and coworker didn’t deliver… Or if responsibilities were divvied up and again there was no delivery… then the OP or team lead were pretty direct about what was needed. It’s not their responsibility to sit down with Coworker to say “we’ve noticed a pattern of you not delivering you work.” That’s a manager’s job. In particular, it’s not a OP’s job because she doesn’t know what other priorities were on Coworker’s plate. OP’s obligation to have the conversation extended only to explaining OP’s needs on the project.

    5. AnonAcademic*

      ” This situation came about because of OP’s failure to address the problem correctly.”

      I disagree, as someone who did the “correct” thing and confronted a slacking coworker multiple times about how her work issues affected me. Part of why this coworker is ineffective is that negative feedback slides off her like teflon. So those conversations got me nowhere and I ended up escalating the issue to our manager. I’m not privy to any specific action they’ve taken, but the situation remains frustrating because our joint project died a painful death because of her and I’m someone who prides themselves on high standards. I’ve vented with a few coworkers who’ve had the same issue with this person because it helped me feel less crazy and stop questioning myself so much about what I could/should have done differently.

    6. J*

      Heh. I’ve actually worked in environments where it was expressly discouraged to approach a co-worker this way. I don’t know if that’s a hallmark of academic administration, but by no means would it have been welcome for me to address someone who was lateral to me on the org chart about performance concerns. Complaints like that were to be directed to my manager who would discuss it with his/her manager.

  16. A Required Name*

    This is so relevant to my life right now! I similarly vented to a coworker about another colleague that is notoriously difficult to deal with. Her work habits are incredibly annoying and frustrating and she has upset my entire team by being incredibly rude to us has done nothing which is probably why I vented to a “friend”. This friend apparently fed back to Problem Coworker what I said and now PC is “upset”. PC went to their line manager then to our CEO- but no one spoke to me about it and no one will tell me what I supposedly said about PC. I’ve chosen not to do anything bc this person isn’t a friend and my feelings about her work don’t directly affect my ability to do my job. I’m still pleasant and nice to her, still do my job as if nothing happened. I said my piece to my manager about it (using lots of Alison’s precious advice) and am letting it sit until feelings are less bruised.

    OP I think you should say something, as awkward as that is, because you say this person is a friend. If you’ve got to work with her on a regular basis I think it’s important to clear the air. It’s hard and frustrating, but sometimes the best thing to say is sorry and nothing more.

  17. Cupquake*

    I once worked in an animal care situation where we had our lunch breaks outside of the main facility (because of contamination, etc) so basically a small cabin on the property with a kitchenette. Since it was a nice day, I had my lunch outside on the porch of the cabin. Two of my coworkers (one a supervisor and one at my level) were inside having lunch and they didn’t realize that I could hear them through the screened windows of the porch. I overheard my name and happened to overhear that my supervisor was trying to think of someone to do a certain task, and when my coworker suggested me, my supervisor said something along the lines of “well, but I need it done quickly” and my coworker said something like “oh she’ll do it quickly if you make sure to let her know!”
    I was a little hurt by overhearing this conversation, but it also let me know that I needed to work on doing tasks still thouroughly, but also more quickly. I never mentioned to either of them that I heard it, but I did try to improve my pace at that job.
    Obviously this situation is a little different, but while it can be hurtful to overhear that your work ethic is lacking, it can also be the kick in the pants you need!

    1. Cupquake*

      Just felt I should clarify that in this case I didn’t feel like they needed to apologize to me-it wasn’t really trash-talking, and I didn’t let on that I had heard them. Also, we were all fairly close as friends/coworkers (small animal-care related nonprofit) and it was a high-stress job (up to 70 hours a week).

  18. Roscoe*

    Oh man, this is rough. Although I don’t think you should feel super guilty. Its very easy to like someone a lot as a person, but not like working with them. Now you don’t necessarily need to tell them, but its very possible. With that, I do think that you should talk with them because then you can explain your side of it, and also let her know that this is something she should work on since it is impacting others, and their opinion is changing as well. Good luck

  19. Anon 12*

    I did something like this one time via email and it was accidentally forwarded to the person who was the subject of it. I was mortified, apologized for the way she received it but suggested we talk through the underlying issue now that it was on the table. She refused, saying she found everything about the exchange too offensive to discuss further. At that point although I was still mortified by what had happened, I let myself off the hook a bit on her having the upper hand in moral superiority. I mean, if she couldn’t bring herself to discuss the underlying business issue in a professional way post apology, I wasn’t going to continue to lose sleep over it.

    1. SeptemberGrrl*

      IMO, a lot of people have a mistaken idea about what apologizing means (and doesn’t mean). Just because you said you’re sorry doesn’t mean the other person has to act like it never happened. If a co worker sent me an email by mistake in which she was trash-talking me and then said “I’m sorry about the way you received this information but since you read it, let’s talk about how terrible you are”. That someone you were trashing behind their back didn’t immediately want to have a productive discussion with you about THEIR failings is not at all surprising.

      1. Anon 12*

        Fair point. Let me clarify that when I asked her to talk to me I made it clear that I wanted to hear her POV as well on why we weren’t working well together and specifically said that it was an opportunity for us both to get feedback. If she had continued to light me up about the email I would have taken my lumps.

  20. Althea*

    My policy is never to vent about something that I wouldn’t give as feedback, if asked for honest feedback by the person in question. Sure, if I’m venting I’ll use a harsher tone, but in general I’m a blunt an honest person and not afraid to say it if the context is right.

    This works well for verbal and email communications alike. “Would I say this, out loud, to her face?” That way, if anything is passed or forwarded along, I can just state my real feedback.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, I learned to have some candid conversations with people because of my goal of never saying anything that I would not say to the person’s face. I know first hand that this works very well. When a person comes back to me and says,”I heard you said X” then I simply respond with “yes that is true and here’s why”. Then we talk.

      Like, OP, I got caught a couple times then I decided to use a new approach to everything.
      I agree with TootsNYC also to match the one and wording.

      A handy side effect from this habit is that frustrations do not hit as hard or as often.

  21. Crazy Canuck*

    This is how I would handle it. Please note that I can be a jerk, and have been informed that I have no soul.

    “So you overheard me and co-worker’s conversation yesterday?”


    “I meant every word. Get your shit together.”

  22. Anonforthis*

    I’ve always been stuck in environments where people are two-faced, so they TELL the person what you were saying about them! That’s why I’m either really quiet or extremely careful about what I say because you never know what might come back to bite you in the behind.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is pretty much where I landed. I just decided that everything I say gets repeated and I just needed to assume any comment would make the big journey through the entire group.

      But you know all is not lost here. I could still say things that would benefit the group. “I don’t think we should have stuff piled up in front of that fire exit.” OR “That is the fourth calculator that has turned up missing JUST this week.”

      If you understand the grapevine around you then you can load things on to the grapevine that actually make your workplace a little better.

  23. The Kurgen*

    I’m puzzled by this situation. If the slacking colleague was friends with the OP and worked on projects together in the past, why didn’t the OP say something at the time instead of venting to someone else after the fact? I imagine it would be beneficial to say to slacking colleague, “could you complete parts A, B, and C and I’ll do parts E, F, and G on Project X? ” When colleague slacks off, reiterate the plan and maybe let the manager know who is responsible for what. Stop doing slacker’s work. You’re giving her the validation to continue underperforming. When projects exceed deadlines, management has more incentive to address the slacker.

  24. MsCHX*

    I love Allison’s script.

    It was probably mentioned upthread already but, we aren’t talking about general gossiping about a coworker’s personality or personal life – that is catty/mean/petty/etc. They were venting about a legitimate work complaint. Which I’m certain is compounded by their belief* that management is aware and not acting (*belief because they probably wouldn’t know if the coworker has been talked to, is on a PIP, etc).

    Having a sit down is in order so OP can own the frustrations and get them out there. And hopefully, if the coworker really does consider her a friend, she will take the critique to heart and try to improve.

  25. TootsNYC*

    Another answer that demonstrates why I love Alison Green!

    She’s always so sympathetic (even to people who have screwed up). But she also doesn’t really let people off the hook or minimize their mistakes.

    Her answers acknowledge human frailty and focus on moving forward.

  26. Pick me! Me!!*

    Kind of a sideline to the main point, but perhaps a useful reframing: I work in a fairly volatile industry, and in my shop there is a coworker with whose habits/productivity are a drag on the rest of us. Management knows. I have decided to look at this colleague as a canary in my coal mine. As long as they are employed I am not getting laid off.

    1. Julia*

      That might for you. Where I work, good people have been fired while my terrible co-worker remains. I frankly think I will be sacked next for daring to complain about her work ethic and her sabotaging me.

    2. Fish Microwaver*

      And where I work the slackers are occupying positions that productive people could. On the public purse too.

  27. AnotherAnony*

    Sometimes the slacker is there for a reason. In my last dysfunctional job, the slacker was the boss’s pet. The pet had minimal professional work to do- their main job was to snitch on what others were saying/doing/wearing/eating/etc. Everyone knew it and there was nothing to do about it. The pet had immunity and could get away with murder. Now if the boss ever left, the pet would probably have to as well.

    1. Pick me! Me!!*

      Alas if that is the case my reframing does not work. My case is almost purely management incompetence so I feel more secure. I offer this solace to the OP if it will help ease the resentment. I also want to point out that I appreciate the OP for soul searching about the gossiping.

      1. AnotherAnony*

        Your reframing does work- in a normal, professional environment. I was just offering up my experience in arse-backwards land where slackers are rewarded and the honest, good, hard-working people are belittled and bullied.

  28. Former Cemetery Admin Clerk*

    I once walked in on a co-worker dissing me. We didn’t have the best working relationship, but I was polite and king until I tipped over and then I went to feed the ducks (a job duty at the time)

    I walked into the back office to drop off some papers to find her badmouthing me to two of our sales staff. They spotted me and their eyes got big and their faces scared but my co-worker kept going, so I kept standing there. Finally their faces got to her and she turned to see me. She stomped off in a huff, I dropped off the papers and accepted the sales staff apologies. I walked off to have a giggle (I was bullied from day one of Kindergarten through my senior year of high school, I was used to crap like that) She later accused me of walking into a private conversation. I didn’t point out that the sales office had two broken doors, propped open all the time.

  29. Julia*

    Are you sure the Snickers weren’t poisoned?

    Joke aside, I have had the same problem, and our horribe – not even a nice slacker! – co-worker came up to us and said she could tell I was frustrated, but she didn’t do what I said she had. W.T.F.

  30. LiptonTeaForMe*

    The majority of issues brought to AAM could be solved if people just communicated. Maybe what we all need are classes in how to say various work related things.

  31. boop the first*

    Yet, if she didn’t overhear the conversation, you wouldn’t have felt bad about it at all. Though before this happened, you guys were the ones who felt bad because you were getting screwed over, and maybe she was fine with it. Now everyone involved feels bad about everything. There’s something cyclic and weirdly pointless about all this.

  32. Anne*

    Let it go. No one is perfect. If you know you are respectful and normally don’t make a habit of this, forgive yourself. You’re not the first or last person to talk about someone else. It was not idle gossip or trashing a reputation. Let this be a lesson to you – but her also. Don’t apologize. Let her take it in if she heard it.

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