I'm on a team of 10 or so people. About half of us are remote in parts of California, and half are in the office in the Bay Area. A few years ago, a specific team member, we'll say "Team Member 1" (TM1 for short), was overheard by someone in another part of the company telling people in our department that a few specific people on his team (TM2, TM3) were just not smart, didn't know what we were doing, and generally should just leave because he could do so much more if we weren't around. Well, the overhearer came back to me and said, "I was talking by your area today and I heard your name and <...> from TM1."

Because this is not my first job, and I'm in a more senior role than TM1, I immediately went back to our manager and told him what happened. I pointed out that we can't be undermining ourselves by talking trash about our own teammates. Our manager supposedly had a private talk with TM1, and it wasn't going to happen again. We eventually lost both TM2 and TM3 to competitors, and I remain.

Since this all happened, I've been promoted to a leadership role. Just this week, someone in my department mentioned that TM1 was doing it again. Not only that, but specifically was saying I wasn't pulling my weight and my leadership role was taking up too much of my time. The overhearer also told me it sounded very much like the previous things TM1 used to say about TM2 and TM3 before (I didn't realize there was a pattern before too).

Because this information comes from a gossip-y source ("someone overheard you"), I feel like it lacks credibility. I've been asked not to expose the overhearer in each case, as they didn't want to get involved (actually, the first OH almost went to HR, but the second OH person told me in confidence). As a leader, I don't feel like getting involved in the petty situation -- but I know this will continue and could have actual business impact if we don't cut it out (we could lose more people). But I can't really disclose my sources either. After this happened, I did re-confirm that my boss doesn't see any performance problem with my work, so I know I'm covered in that regard.

Do I betray the confidence of my friend and tell my boss what happened? I've already asked my friend to report it directly to my boss, or not tell me in the future, as it puts me in a terrible position (and I can't force him to tell the boss). Do I just find another team? Our business has a reputation of not having the kind of culture I describe in this story, and that's why I like working there. I'd rather not leave, but any attempt to resolve this situation potentially undermines me professionally and could violate personal trust towards me as well. I'm also concerned that my boss will handle it quietly and it will pop up again in 6 months (we will fix the individual behavior, but the culture will remain).

Posting anonymously, and will do my best to answer any follow up questions. If anything is specifically relevant to workplace laws in California, that would be valuable too. Thank you!

  • 4
    As part of this leadership role, are you managing the offending team member? Jun 29, 2017 at 11:43
  • If you were to talk to TM1 about what you heard, would it be obvious to him who told you about it? Since it seems like this is a recurring pattern, my guess would be not.
    – David K
    Jun 29, 2017 at 12:11
  • I'm not managing TM1, and if I brought it up, I'm not sure if I'd be giving away where I heard it. I know more than one person overheard it, so I'm assuming no -- but, I can' t be sure.
    – Juan Doe
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:04

4 Answers 4


I think the best option here is to talk to TM1, but without confronting them.

Go to your coworker and say that you've heard (no names) that they are unhappy with how you've been contributing to the program. You know that with your new responsibilities you haven't been working on the program as much, but your manager has you working where he wants you. However, you didn't realize that was putting more of a burden on TM1. Where is the program lacking coverage? Maybe one of you can talk to a manager about getting someone else to come onto the program, or shift some of the responsibilities around.

What's most important is that the goal of this conversation is not to accuse your coworker of badmouthing you, but to make sure that the work is getting done properly. Your tone needs to be helpful, and not accusatory. You shouldn't mention how you heard this info, but at the same time it let's TM1 know that you did hear what he said.

As an alternative, if you don't feel that you are the right person to talk to him about program coverage, you can go to the manager who is. Again, the goal here is to help the program, not accuse TM1. Tell the manager that you've heard your new leadership role has left some coverage gaps on the project. They should probably talk to TM1 about whether some assistance is needed.


You did not hear it directly, you cannot repeat it.

Being in a leadership role means others will talk about you and their perception of your performance. Do not let this talk derail you and your success.

The person talking about others will be noticed and hopefully corrected.


I don't see why you are even considering addressing this. Since the history is so long, I doubt TM1 has any credibility.You are doing yourself a defavor for even acknowledging that you need to take some action.You can be sure that everyone knows that TM1 is a profesional bulshiter and his words mean less than nothing.

The best thing you can do is ignore this, and if anyone comes to you with something like that, nip it in the bud tell them that you don't waste time on gossip from TM1 and they should not waste time listening to him anyway.

Do a good job and eventually TM1 will lose his audience without any effort from your part.


What about this,

I've already asked my friend to report it directly to my boss...

Grab Friend tomorrow and say this,

I've been thinking about what you said. I realized you have to straightaway tell Boss, in fact we both have to tell him, let's step in to his room he's there...

If Friend flat-out refuses to walk that way, continue

Since you've involved me now, we have to tell Boss. It's not our problem at all, so let's just tell Boss and that's the end of it.

The workplace is not middle-school, you have to just completely cut off any nonsense like this.

Personally I'd just instantly walk over and grab Complainer, Boss, Friend, and say:

"Look, Complainer, we all complain sometimes. Of course everyone knows everything you say. Let's hash out the actual technical complaints and get on with work."

Note ...... the "trick"" in that language is you don't mention anything about yourself or indeed the issue of back talk. Immediately go to language about the technical complaints.

If you feel "socially awkward" confronting Complainer based on what Complainer said - unfortunately you have to just "get over it".

It's a case of "What would Steve Jobs do?" (Or insert Richard Branson - whoever you think of as a prime mover.) It's inconceivable Jobs, Branson etc would dither around wasting company time on this.

  • I've already asked friend to talk to the boss, and he has refused, needing "time to think." I've told him I must say something, already, and that he is welcome to speak up first but in my next 1-1 meeting, I will be mentioning it. But I also don't want to betray the friend. Also, because we're remote, all three of us are in different places normally. I'd love to grab everyone and deal with it straightaway. But if we were all in the same location, this probably wouldn't have happened. What's the remote equivalent of "walking over to everyone and having it out?"
    – Juan Doe
    Jun 29, 2017 at 1:48
  • (equivalent is pick up phone) You can't delay any more, just pick up the phone and resolve it. Call Friend and then get Boss on the line. Just resolve it instantly. Telephone Friend and say "this has to be resolved as everyone is now talking about it, I'm going to call Boss now, would you prefer to call him first?" and then call Boss.
    – Fattie
    Jun 29, 2017 at 1:53
  • "I've told him I must say something", time's up, drop him an email saying "regarding ABC's complaints I'm calling boss on that now as I said I had to, let's all get on the line and resolve it." Really it will be a non-issue once it is all out in the open.
    – Fattie
    Jun 29, 2017 at 1:54

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