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Our small team which consists of 3 staff and our boss recently have added a fourth person to the mix. It became immediately clear that he was not a fit personality-wise or skill-wise. He was a rush-hire as one of our other team members abruptly quit and the boss thought we needed to replace him with someone of similar experience.

After many interpersonal issues between the new guy and our team, I was called in to a brief chat with my boss. He asked me what was causing such problems and ensured me that my response would be kept between us. I let him know what I thought were our new guy's faults.

That afternoon the new guy approaches me and tells me "So, I hear you think I'm..." and recounts my list of criticisms, letting me know that our boss told him what I had said.

Should I approach my boss over this breach of trust? Is there anything to gain from bringing this up to him?

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    Are you part of a larger company with a HR Department? Also was this a documented meeting you had with your boss or just a quick chat? It may very well be that this person is fishing to see if it was you who raised these issues and he may not know for sure. – Michael Grubey Jul 11 '13 at 12:18
  • No HR department, small company. It was just a quick chat. The structure of our team is basically such that even if my boss didn't say my name but still gave my criticisms, it would be very apparent since my criticisms involved references to specific tasks we had done together. I am the only one who works with him directly. – jmorc Jul 11 '13 at 12:23
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    If you are the only one who works with him directly, then ANY criticism such as that is going to be somewhat apparent as to who said it. Your boss may have simply said "Hey, these are things you need to work on", and the co-worker simply guessed who said it. – JohnP Jul 11 '13 at 14:34
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    If you are the only direct co-worker, the only one that had a meeting with the boss, or the only one that had a "long" meeting with the boss, it becomes pretty obvious where the complaints came from if that very afternoon the boss talks to him about performance. The boss could definitely have handled it better, like waiting a few days before talking with the employee, but don't assume that the boss said something to the effect of "Joe has these problems with you". – Matt Jul 11 '13 at 16:22
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    Comments removed. Please use the comment feature to help clarify the question, not for extended discussion. For discussions not related to improving this question (or for longer discussions on that topic), please use The Workplace Chat. – yoozer8 Jul 16 '13 at 13:52
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From what I am reading it doesn't sound like your boss is very good at being your boss but I don't think it was a malicious or intentional breach of trust.

I personally would approach him. However, you need to "step carefully". Because if you approach this the wrong way or are harsh to your boss and just tell him off (which I am sure you might like to do) it could end very badly for you.

Approach him. Do it in a very calm manner. Maybe ask, "Hey can I have a word with you in your office or somewhere in private?" This should definitely not be done at a meeting between all of you or out in the open where the others can hear you. Once you guys are alone, calmly ask "Did you tell ___ about what I said about him the other day when we talked?" If he tells you that he did then reply with calm questions like "What was your reason for telling him?" and "Why did you assure me that you weren't going to tell him what I said?"

Make sure that when you are asking these questions that you never come off as angry or frustrated which I know you are. The trick is in the way you are asking the questions and talking about the situation if you come in and just go off with a question like "WHY DID YOU TELL HIM?! YOU TOLD ME YOU WOULDN'T!" That's not going to be productive for anyone.

There is also the option of not confronting your boss. By doing this you are going to avoid any possible outburst that you may have at the time but also you are just going to keep your anger built up and next time your boss does something that betrays your trust you might feel more hatred and maybe you'll say something you regret.

The best thing to do is to address it. So you can move on. Your boss will know he betrayed your trust and he can learn from that. And everyone can move passed the situation. Because, especially in a small company like you are in, there needs to be good camaraderie between coworkers because those are the only people you work with and there is not really time to be angry at each other. Think about it, if you are angry at your boss then 1/4th of his employees are having problems and maybe you tell your other coworker who is your friend and he sides with you. That's half of your boss's employees that are mad at him and, again, it's not productive.

You need to address the situation; just make you sure tread carefully, calmly, and quietly. Don't make any waves.

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    Love the answer. I'd only add one thing - don't presume that because the coworker accused you that your boss disclosed it. The boss has to give an employee with problems feedback. It should be filtered and not attributed to specific individuals, but sometimes it's pretty easy to guess who thinks what. Don't assume that because the problem employee guessed your opinions that your boss betrayed your trust. I particularly like this answer because it starts with asking calm questions, and then clearly stating the issue. It gives your boss a chances to say "woah, that WASN'T me!!!" – bethlakshmi Jul 11 '13 at 15:52
  • While I agree in spirit with this answer, especially about being particularly careful about how to proceed, I am extremely reluctant to recommend approaching the boss at all in order to deliver any accusation of breach of professional trust. In the best case outcome, the boss admits they overtly did it, and they apologize. In any case it will strain your relationship. The best course would be to essentially let it go, as the immediate net result as really more important (the consequence to the 3rd party/team), and the personal consequence would only matter if it became an apparent pattern. – JustinC Jul 11 '13 at 18:09
  • I see what you are saying @JustinC but I don't think that not addressing the issue, in turn, addresses the issue. This needs to be addressed. If it is addressed then both parties (the person posting and their boss) can learn from this situation and keep it in mind next time something like this happens. It is a learning experience and both sides need to learn from it. If they don't address it then the boss doesn't know that his employee is having a problem with what he has said, maliciously or not. – chh Jul 11 '13 at 18:37
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    Having a conversation is a good idea. However, I think this line of questioning is actually quite aggressive — even with a calm tone. We don't need to ask questions like "did you tell ___ about what I said..." or "what was your reason for..." or "why did you assure me...". You don't need answers to these questions. Don't interrogate your boss. Instead I would say, "___ came to me and asked me about some of the things we discussed. I don't want him to feel I'm responsible for all this". You're boss isn't stupid, he'll get it right away. – Peter Jul 11 '13 at 22:32
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From the updated information you have provided your boss has taken your criticisms on board and has acted on them as I'm sure any boss would who values their employees opinions. It seems as though he has not set out to intentionally drop you in it with your colleague and the last thing it is would be a breach of trust. From his point of view he has listened to one of his team and expressed his worries to the person. He's trusting you enough to take your concerns on board and investigated this further.

I would advise speaking to your boss in private and making him aware of the conversation your colleague started with you. You need to make him aware that you were approached and everything that was said.

  • This is the best course of action. It does not acuse the manager of telling the employee what the author thought but points out the employee knew what the author said ( either by guessing or being told directly ). – Donald Jul 16 '13 at 16:57
  • The problem here is not that the other employee found out, but that he got aggressive about it with the OP. Another strike against him, which should go on the boss' list if he should decide to get rid of him – user90842 Jun 25 at 23:44
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You should tell him what happened: The new employee approached you and that made you feel uncomfortable, since you just wanted to help as you addressed the problems (or what you thought are the problems) in the private meeting.

Be very careful with accusations. It's better to talk about feelings, or how you experienced the situation than making an accusation and hence attacking another person verbally. The other person intuitively feels the urge to defend. If you just talk about your feelings, there is a different situation.

You could add that you left your field of experience as you made the points about the new employee and that you would feel better if you were to be left out of such management decisions in future!


If you don't address the problem, it could be possible for you to (unconsciously) develop passive-aggressive behaviour towards your boss. So I would recommend to speak up, considering the mentionend points.

  • If you don't address the problem, it could be possible for you to (unconsciously) develop passive-aggressive behaviour towards your boss - I fear your warning has come to late :( – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 11 '13 at 19:34
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You cannot assume that your boss revealed anything. You could be the victim of a ruse perpetrated by the new employee, who is trying to find out who said all those things to the boss, which he could do by approaching each of the three of you and saying the same thing: "So I hear you think I'm ..." and monitoring the reaction. There are only three of you, so this is very easy.

  • ... you're kidding, right? – enderland Jul 11 '13 at 19:08
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    @enderland - I wouldn't rule it out. This is exactly the technique most police detectives use to try to root out the culprit from a small pool of suspects. It's easy, and all they have to do is look for embarrassment/anger in your reaction, and everyone else will react with puzzlement. Kaz has a very good point, here. – Wesley Long Jul 11 '13 at 23:26
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It is also very possible that such things are hard to keep secret in such a small team. Have you considered the new employee might have seen you talk to the boss earlier that day or might have known that the other two employees were with him/in sight up until his meeting with the boss, whereas you weren't? Perhaps your boss might not have even said a word about you, but the new guy managed to piece it together (either that, or he took a blind guess it was you and your response confirmed it). Small teams come with such a risk, no matter how hard the boss tries to keep it discreet.

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I wouldn't worry about it. If you answered your bosses questions honestly than you can stand by your beliefs. I wouldn't see it as your boss breached trust, hey may have not. For example if your boss told the new employee "problems" his coworkers have with him and he noticed you had a private meeting with the boss a few minutes early, he may have figured it out. It's good to let a person know when he's doing something you don't like so he can work on changing himself for the better.

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You should always have monthly or at least quarterly 1:1s with your manager and hopefully that you have a report with your manager such that you can openly discuss and confront issues like these as adults without repercussions. If your manager is known to be overly political and whose response would more than likely be "how dare you?!", then I would find alternative work as that is a serious red flag.

As user9940 said, sometimes it is hard to keep things secret but also know whether or not it is serious enough to warrant a response from you. Sometimes it may be better to let the affected employee know about it and have him or her address it. This keeps you protected and allows the affected employee to determine if it is worth addressing. Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill.

protected by jmort253 Jul 11 '13 at 17:40

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