my coworker won’t stop badmouthing my new boss

A reader writes:

I’ve recently decided to take an offer from a new company. It’s a great career step.

However, after I announced my resignation at my old company and discussed my new opportunity, one of my current coworkers at the job I’m leaving has been loudly telling me about how her partner previously worked for this new company, and in fact the same boss, and hated it. Several times a day, she has been sharing horror stories about my soon-to-be boss which are really unsettling me. I have asked her to stop, and she’s continued to quietly share these stories with colleagues, sometimes in my earshot.

Now, I’m not naive. Oftentimes, stories of horror coworkers and bosses are worth listening to, and I suppose I’m scared that my team member’s stories are correct. In fact, I’m sure that her partner isn’t lying about his experiences. So I suppose I have two questions: should I run from this new job (my current employer would gladly accept me back, and I have several weeks before the start date), and is my coworker’s behavior well-meaning (as she claims) or some sort of acting out against me leaving?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker disappears for hours at a time and I get stuck picking up the work
  • My intern was promoted above me
  • Asking about your chances as a candidate before going on a different interview
  • Is it worth talking to a job candidate who’s earning far more than I can pay?

{ 63 comments… read them below }

  1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I usually don’t badmouth, but myself and a work friend both speak German at a decent skill level.

    Spanish, Hmong, and Scandinavian languages are the most common here. German- isn’t. So if we need to vent we use that, rarely.

    Benefits of foreign language instruction! ;)

    1. MK

      That’s actually kind of dangerous. You might end up saying something particularly embarassing in front of someone who will understand you.

        1. EddieSherbert

          +1

          I’ve had this commonly happen with a language I speak. A lot of people in my area relocated here and it’s their native language, but not a lot of “other locals” speak it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, please be careful!

        My mom often codeswitches to talk trash, and invariably, there’s always someone she doesn’t expect to be fluent who catches her shade. It’s much higher stakes in the workplace.

        1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

          I guess it is just a bad habit. My mom would often talk crap in German when I was growing up. They aren’t personal, but more like “ugh, system X is down again,” or “this is a waste of time.”

          1. Charlie

            Still a terrible idea. Tone and body language still convey that you’re being snarky, and everyone around you will automatically conclude that you’re trashing them whether you are or not. It’s really unprofessional, even if nobody can understand the particulars, and I’d encourage you to stop. If I was your boss, I would direct you to.

      2. Jessesgirl72

        Yep. I have now corrected the notion that Americans only speak English for two sets of German tourists (in separate non-German-speaking locations) They were embarrassed enough (and I simply stated that some “stupid Americans” can speak German, on my way past) as strangers. It would have been worse on both sides if we were coworkers.

        1. Artemesia

          I have done the same thing. I was once fluent in German and understand a fair amount of French and have managed to embarrass people in both languages who were assuming that Americans would not understand them.

        2. Trillian

          My mother once took a strip off a taxi driver who was overtly trying to overcharge them. It was as much a surprise to her as him, since she hadn’t used her German for years.

        3. Anonymouse

          I had a friend’s family member start telling an incredibly… personal story to another family member in Spanish front of me once. I turned to my friend and asked her, in Spanish, if there was anything she needed help with. Much awkwardness all around.

        4. Mookie

          Yeah, it’s interesting how this plays out depending on what American stereotype one is drawing on. On the one hand, US Americans among Anglophones are less likely than ever to be functionally monolingual — so it’s unwise to underestimate them — and on the other, Americans in particular travel the globe believing no one can understand them when they don’t want them to (so, openly talking shite in public like English is esoteric) and yet expecting everyone to cater to them in English when their desires as tourists need fulfilling (usually by people working in service).

      3. Pennalynn Lott

        Back in high school, I was at my boyfriend’s house when his mom came home early and caught us kissing in the kitchen. She started yelling at him in French, calling me an American wh*re, a sl*t, and a bunch of other really bad things. He kept trying to interrupt her and get her to stop, but she went on for about 30 minutes, with me just standing there. When it was clear that she had run out of steam and I was dismissed, I asked my boyfriend — IN FRENCH — if he could walk me to the bus stop.

        His mom turned pale white and looked like she was going to faint. Boyfriend said to her, “*That* is what I was trying to tell you, Mom! She speaks French!!!”

        1. Brogrammer

          Even if you hadn’t spoken French, sounds like it was pretty clear from her tone and refusal to stop (for 30 minutes!) what she was saying. But yeah, with you speaking French, that just makes it even dumber on her part.

          1. Pennalynn Lott

            The more he tried to get her to stop talking, the madder she got, so she kept ratcheting it up. If he’d just stood there, she probably would have hurled a handful of insults my way and then asked me to leave. But she thought he was defending me against her (the horror!), when he was really just trying to keep her from embarrassing herself even further.

            1. Brogrammer

              Wow! That’s really something else. I know that parenting teenagers is hard, but it just seems like common sense that if you don’t like your teen’s significant other, at least wait until said SO has left your house before getting into a protracted argument with your teen.

      4. Mike C.

        This happened all the time in front of my grandfather, same language and everything. He loved responding back in german.

      5. Zip Silver

        My employees don’t realize that I’ve learned Spanish in the past year. I fake barely understanding and doing the gringo thing, but I’m approaching fluency now.

        It is a nice secret power.

        1. Teclatrans

          Backnin the day I had short hair and lives in an area with many spanish-speaking immigrants. I had pulled an all-nighter and was blearily making my way home on the bus, when I became aware of the two teenagers across the way involved in a heated debate — in Spanish — over my gender. Their mom looked a bit uncomfortable, but didn’t say much. Soon a seat opened up by a friend at the front of the bus, so I turned to them and calmly said, “soy mujer.” They were so adorably flustered and embarrassed. And they learned not to assume that every gringa spoke only English, which was probably a useful lesson.

  2. Phoenix, not the city

    I’m following comments on the badmouthing piece as I have had a rough year 3 deaths in the family during understaffing & 2 failed searches, spouse recognized problem drinking (now has months into sobriety and a program) big restructuring at work with 2 new hires and have had to say a fair amount of “this isn’t working for me, how can we work through this” that likely came across as negativity. I would really like to hear how others have worked to improve their verbal habits, as I feel better, but may have a little too much candor at times.

    Any tips or quick phrases that order your thoughts toward more professional conversation?

    1. anon for this

      This may sound weird, but congrats so much on your spouse recognizing their drinking problem and getting help. I am trying to convince my husband that drinking 2 bottles of wine a night is not normal and that blacking out daily is not normal and that he needs help. He will admit that it’s a “problem” but only on par with, like, eating gluten. He just can’t envision a world without alcohol.

      Too long on me — I just want to say, I know it’s rough getting to that point, and rough going through, but I am so happy for you both. It’s a good step!

      1. Phoenix, not the city

        Thank you! He had to see it in a niece to recognize it in himself. Part of what has kept me sane is Al-Anon (which is free, local as well as on-line, and for family and friends), Smart Recovery Family Groups (mostly in major cities) and with the family group at his local treatment site. He had intensive outpatient treatment, which happened after work for a number of weeks, and gave him a core group of people to make the journey with. We also need our tribe as we go through the insanity sober, & in helps unravel built-up dysfunction.

    2. Kit

      The steps I use for working on my ADHD over-sharing are to put these three gates in front of everything I say:

      1. Is it true?
      2. Is it kind?
      3. Is it relevant?

      You may not struggle with truthfulness the way I do (compulsive lying is a common ADHD issue), but making sure to check that the things you say are relevant to the situation/conversation at hand and that you are conveying your thoughts as kindly as possible are two things everyone should be doing.

  3. Mee Too

    How would you go about doing due diligence on a new manger? Info about bad managers is not usually published and unless you know someone who already works there how would you find out what they are really like?

    1. Barney Barnaby

      Allison’s point about the woman’s lack of professionalism undermining her credibility could not be more true.

      I’ve had a handful of people ask me about my experiences working at a large company. (Now, some of these people had known me for about fifteen years, so they were inclined to believe me.) I didn’t remotely try to talk them out of applying; I just laid out my experience as succinctly and specifically as possible. I didn’t recommend any course of action or say anything if they decide to apply; it’s not my place.

      Any time something like this comes up, if you are genuinely concerned about the applicant or new hire’s well-being, you have to ask yourself what you reasonably expect the person to do with that information. There isn’t going to be some big dramatic showdown between the applicant/new hire and the manager. The person might decline an interview; could ask questions in the interview process that are based off of what you said (e.g., “Can you please tell me how long people have been in this role and why they left?”); or could take the job with eyes wide open to potential problems.

      But if you have gossip and snark, not specifics, it sounds more like an attempt to bad-mouth the person, rather than a genuine concern about an unprofessional and toxic workplace.

      1. Mike C.

        I’m having a difficult time seeing the direct connection between “understands normal rules of decorum in the workplace” and “is willing/able to tell correct information to someone else”. Both could certainly be true, and it’s certainly a risk to take into consideration but I don’t see how the former follows directly to the latter. I’m not saying this coworker is painting themselves in the best light, but I’m going to be verifying the claims made regardless of whether the stories are being told out in the open or privately and discreetly.

        The thing is, even just knowing the lion’s den someone is walking into is very, very useful. It’s always better to know ahead of time that something challenging is coming your way. And if nothing else, there might be options for the person being told that aren’t obvious to someone in your position.

  4. Cassandra

    Inc. needs to give whoever’s picking out their illustrations a raise. What an epic photo this time — for a concept that I wouldn’t have thought easy to find a stock photograph for!

    1. Cassandra

      Alison, any chance of interviewing this person for one of the AAM tell-me-about-your-job posts? I’d love to know more.

    2. Lily in NYC

      I thought they let Alison pick the photos at Inc? Or maybe that’s another of the places she freelances, I can’t remember.

  5. Amber

    #1 Unless you personally know the work ethic of the person that worked with that manager, I wouldn’t put any weight to it. I’m currently in a good example. My boss is Ned Stark. He used to be in charge of Sansa. But Sansa wasn’t good at her job, she was eventually offered a different role at the company to get her out of the Captain of the Guard role. Ned is also my manger, he offered me her old job so I am now Captain of the Guard. I’ve had conversations with Sansa’s boyfriend who is completely in the dark at how bad Sansa was at that job. He completely defends her and thinks Ned is awful. I however have seen nothing but him being a reasonable manager, I like working for him. Sansa’s and her boyfriend have a distorted view of Ned and any horror stories they tell are really because they are bad employees and don’t know it.

    This manager that your coworker is talking about, might be similar. Maybe the partner of your coworker was a bad employee and your coworker will never know that because she only hears her partner’s side of the story.

    1. Not So NewReader

      So much this. Differences in personality and differences in approaches to the job can totally change the dynamic between a boss and employees. Additionally, the boss can tweak what she is doing to give the next employee a different experience with the workplace.

      I consider my boss to be a good boss. The first couple of people who had my job did not last. There were several reasons, but I am just going to use one of the reasons here. Part of the problem was lack of training/support. When the job came open again, my boss put her foot down and pulled in the training and support that the next person would need to have a good launch. When I started the job I could see there was much to be done. I was not overwhelmed by it because my boss, by her actions, showed that she agreed. She had things in place for my training and my support. And she even developed a list of people to call for each area I might have a problem.
      This is one example, there were other things that she did that changed/lessened other issues. She had enough going right, that I was able to learn the job and then turn around to make more improvements for her. In the end, we both made each other’s jobs easier and we have a great working relationship.

      It is possible for one person to have a terrible experience and the next person to have a better experience.

    2. Plant Manager

      Yep, it might be unsettling to hear the stories, but they’re basically data-free. This one person knows another person who, from their perspective, was wronged by a particular manager. That’s it. Even if the stories are very specific, there’s no way to assess their reliability.

      Case in point: I’ve got a former employee whose closest work bud has commented to me three times about my firing of said ex-employee. (It was mostly relevant each time, not random bomb-throwing.) Except I didn’t–Ex asked for a raise, I said no, he said he had an offer and was taking it. Current Employee either doesn’t believe me or doesn’t remember when I correct him, and if he’s confidant enough to say this outright untruth to me, I’m sure his partner has heard some interesting tales.

      1. hbc

        Not sure anyone cares that this was me, but I’ll be posting this way until the *next* salary survey if I don’t deal with it now.

    3. Formica Dinette

      Yep. At one job, we got a new boss whom I generally thought was great. Before they started, I liked my work and was doing it well, but I excelled under their leadership and was rewarded for it. Coworker didn’t like their work as much and was only good at about 50% of it. New Boss expected Coworker to improve their skills, but since Coworker was unwilling to do that, there was often tension between the two. Result: Coworker badmouthed New Boss, while I spoke highly of them.

    4. Blue_eyes

      This. Did anyone else notice that the coworker’s boyfriend was a *former* employee of the OP’s new company? It could be that coworker’s boyfriend quit or was fired and is disgruntled about his former workplace. Combined with the fact that the coworker doesn’t seem to have great professional judgement, I wouldn’t put much stock in what she says, there’s just so many ways it could be exaggerated or false.

    5. Stranger than fiction

      I agree. You can also kind of tell by the fact tbat whe Op shit her down, she proceeded to have overly loud conversations about it with other coworkers. So she sounds dramatic. Perhaps she’s jealous because she’s not the one moving on.

    6. Catalyst

      I could not agree more with this comment. Often times as well, these people who are not a good fit for the roll just can’t see it themselves, which contributes to their dislike of their boss. I would wait and make a decision based on your experience, not a third party opinion.

  6. LiteralGirl

    When I was interviewing for and after I got my current position, my old coworker had been talking to a couple of people in my new department who were not satisfied with the director. He (old coworker) told me all about their complaints and warned me against accepting the position. It turns out that those he spoke with were part of a group of long time employees who were not used to being held accountable for their work and timelines and saw the documentation requirements as micromanaging. I’m perfectly happy to provide my boss with status reports on projects so she can tell our internal customers where we are without having to tell them she’ll get back to them.
    She is one of the best bosses I’ve had. We have clear expectations and requirements and as long as we adhere to them, she doesn’t interfere.

    1. Lily in NYC

      That’s comforting to hear. One of my coworkers referred her former boss for a role here and warned me that he was awful to support staff (I was going to be his EA). I decided that I’d be able to handle him anyway because I tend to get along fine with difficult people, but oh my god did she understate how horrendous he was. I had battered employee syndrome for 3 years working for him.

    2. Annonymouse

      Context matters.
      If someone is badmouthing your future boss or workplace ask them what their experience is and HOW they reached that conclusion.

      This seperates the poor employees with firm managers from the bosses you should run from.

      I.e Boss is a micromanager!

      Poor employee answer: they want status updates on important project we are doing every DAY! To see how I and it are progressing!

      Boss is bad, run answer: he once, while at a meditation retreat climbed up a mountain to get reception on his phone to check I was answering emails and sent me a snarky email because there was an email from outside business hours that hasn’t been replied to.

      Sadly the second one is a real example

  7. Tangerina Warbleworth

    Use the rest of her behavior as a guide: is she often preoccupied with the being the know-it-all, or having the latest news? Has she ever shown signs of being jealous of you or others before?

    I’d take the advice of everyone above, saying that it likely holds no water at all. Besides, let’s say that New Boss was kind of jerk toward her boyfriend, but got called on it and improved. New Boss might be great now. Trust your reasons for going to new employer, and Loudmouth McBoundaryChallenger can step off.

  8. Jessesgirl72

    The thing about managers is you just never know.

    I’ve heard tales about how Manager X was a nightmare to work for. In fact, this goes back to even high school, where I’d be told that some teacher was a terror. And then I’d get there, and the Manager or Teacher was fine- they just expected you to have your act together and do what you were supposed to do. The one person I heard THE most complaints about was scrupulously fair about everything and was so nice and understanding if you had a problem and asked for his help.

    But then, there was this one Manager I heard horror stories about for years- long before I ever met him. He got transferred to my department, and he was every single bit as bad (and inconsistently so) as everyone said. I dealt with it for a couple months, as best I could, but eventually transferred to another office to get away from him.

    But I must say, the rumors were only accurate maybe 1 time out of 6 or 7! Most of the time it was just people complaining for being reasonably called out for their poor performance.

  9. Green Tea Pot

    I once inherited an employee who was very negative. I gave her every chance, tried to mentor her, but nothing I did pleased her. I finally came to the conclusion that she was mentally ill. And she finally quit. Best possible outcome.

    1. Charlie

      Any reason why you didn’t treat it as a performance issue? I’m currently dealing with this with one of my reports who works remotely at a client site.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, that’s something where you do some initial coaching but if you don’t see improvement from that, you treat it as a performance issue, including firing if need be.

    2. Julia

      I’m not sure I feel comfortable with you calling your employee mentally ill.
      Let’s just say she was complaining a lot and it impacted work and keep it at that, please?

      I’m not saying mental illness cannot make you more negative (hello, depression!), but I’m really uneasy with the way you armchair-diagnose her.

  10. I prefer tea

    Any chance she’s doing it for the attention? When you leave on good terms (and it seems you are if they’d readily have you back), you tend to get a lot of good attention – people stopping by to say how much they’ve enjoyed working with you, etc. This could be her way of hijacking that for herself.

  11. Anon for this

    Another aspect of bad manager stories is sometimes a manager struggles with managing some roles and not others. My coworkers sometimes complain about micromanaging from the teapot production line manager and those complaints are valid, however she only micromanages the potters. I glaze teapots and never get micromanaged. So there’s a further nuance.

  12. AllieJ0516

    I used to sell Company A’s chocolate teapots for my former Company B. Company A had a contact, Pat, whom I dealt with regularly, who would constantly complain about the management at Company A. I felt that Pat and I were friends, and believed Pat’s struggle. Pat eventually moved on. When I found myself without a job, I heard that Company A was hiring. Since I knew their teapots inside and out, I was a perfect fit for the position, but because of Pat’s badmouthing, I was afraid to apply.

    When I got to the point where I didn’t feel like I could be too choosy, I decided to apply. I went in and interviewed, they loved me, and I really liked the people that I interviewed with. When they offered me a position with a substantial pay increase from my former job, I chose to accept it.

    After just a few days, it was incredibly clear to me that what I had heard from Pat for years was not, in fact, an issue with the company or its management. All the issues stemmed directly from Pat. I’ve been at the company now for a while, and couldn’t be happier. We actually have MANY employees that have been with the company for over 40 years, I seriously doubt they can be that bad!

    OP, even if this gossip’s boyfriend had major issues with your new manager, that doesn’t mean that the issues stemmed from the manger herself.

    Ignore what she says, happily move along, and form your own opinion.

  13. Vicki

    #4 – Asking about your chances as a candidate before going on a different interview

    Alison –

    I noticed three things about the letter that would make me cautious and wondered about these two points. Company 1 (which the LW’s spouse is less interested in) is out of state, the job would require them to move, and _the candidates have to pay for the airfare_ to the interview.

    If it were me in this situation, I would not be going to that interview if there was the least chance I would get the job with company 2.

    Your answer makes sense to me in the general case, but with these factors added in, why is it still reasonable to move forward on the other company, at least without a LOT of soul-searching? This could be an expensive decision.

  14. Freya UK

    OP5 – Definitely ask. After this job I’m planning to get something that suits my life-needs better (PT, shorter commute) and I am prepared for a paycut because the other things outweigh the money for me.

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