Q: Two of my co-workers, “Jake” and “Cheryl,” sit next to each other and spend a lot of time whispering and giggling.
They often leave the office together and are sometimes gone for hours. Jake’s wife recently told me they have separated because he is having an affair with Cheryl.
Although I realize this is none of my business, I can’t help feeling upset about the situation. My husband and I used to be good friends with Cheryl and her husband, but we have now severed all social ties with them.
The employees in our office spend a lot of time talking about Jake and Cheryl behind their backs. For the sake of our former friendship, should I tell Cheryl what people are saying about her?
A: Since you have already distanced yourself from Cheryl socially, the most important question is how this unsolicited feedback might affect your working relationship.
If you anticipate that Cheryl will welcome your intervention, perhaps it’s a good idea. But if she is likely to become angry or defensive, then you need to hold your tongue.
You should also carefully examine your personal motives for wanting to have this discussion. Because you are feeling dismayed and disillusioned, you may actually be looking for an opportunity to express your own disappointment with Cheryl. If that’s your underlying objective, then the conversation is sure to end badly.
On the other hand, you do have a legitimate obligation to make management aware of workplace issues. So if these illicit lovebirds are creating disruption in the office, a better strategy might be to have a confidential conversation with your boss.
Just be sure that you present this as a business problem, not a juicy piece of gossip.
Q: In my job with the school system, I am supposed to provide support services to the schools in our district. My objective is to help them meet their annual improvement goals. The principal of one school clearly views my presence as a hindrance, not a help. How can I turn this situation around?
A: You are essentially functioning as an internal consultant, so you should try to adopt a consulting mind-set.
Unfortunately, internal consultants are often viewed as interfering meddlers by managers who are insecure or territorial.
To overcome such skepticism, you must present yourself as a helpful partner, not a condescending expert.
Every successful consultant knows that understanding the client’s point of view is the first step in reducing resistance to change. Therefore, at the beginning of any assignment, you should learn as much as possible about the people with whom you will be working and the way they view your role.
Assuming that you do provide valuable services, you need to show this particular principal how working with you could actually make life easier. Start by asking about his goals and challenges, then explore his concerns about your project. Once you see the world through his eyes, you should find it easier to demonstrate your usefulness.