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Keeping performance problems private

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “My manager frequently talks to one of my co-workers, “Claire,” about the performance problems of another team member. I've told Claire that I think it's wrong for our boss to be discussing this other employee with her. Claire says she doesn’t mind being used as a sounding board. She’s convinced that she's helping, but I disagree. What do you think?” — Offended

Marie’s Answer: I tend to agree with you. Unfortunately, however, neither of the people involved has asked for my opinion. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts:

•    If I were talking with your gossipy boss, I would tell her that it’s inappropriate for a manager to discuss one employee’s performance with another. If she feels a need for consultation, she should seek guidance from her boss or HR manager.

•    My first suggestion for Claire would be to stop broadcasting her boss’s private comments. I would also recommend that she try to discourage these confidences by minimizing her response or tactfully changing the subject.

•    For you, my advice is simple.  Since these improper discussions don’t affect you directly, you might as well stop fretting about them, because there’s not much you can to do to prevent them. Your only other option is to confront your boss, but that strategy is likely to have adverse consequences for both you and Claire.  

There is one valuable lesson to be learned from this situation, however. You should be very careful about what you say to Claire, because she’s evidently quite a chatterbox.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cass September 3, 2010 at 12:34 am

I’m in a situation very similar to the OP. Our manager (though not my boss) has a habit of gossiping about her staff with the staffers who are close to her. I hear about it through one of my friends (who is one of the “favorites”) and because I sit close enough to the manager’s office that I can hear her talking. She is not quiet whatsoever and she rarely closes her door (to have these conversations).

She can be nice when she wants to be, but she gripes about certain staff members and doesn’t seem to care who hears. And before anyone suggests that I might be jealous of her close relationship – I would not want to be friends with someone who complains about everything, who has poor management skills despite being paid to be a manager, and who talks about others without discretion.

I’m not sure Claire is violating any sort of confidentiality. Is she a manager or in HR? Or is she just a “friend” of the Manager? The Manager is probably violating some sort of confidentiality, but Claire may not be. And unless The Manager swore Claire to secrecy (unlikely, and even if she did, would that hold up in a courtroom?), Claire is free to repeat whatever she wants.

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Mohan M Prasad May 16, 2010 at 1:28 am

While I concede that every leader has his/her own style of communicating with people and taking some into confidence on sensitive matters etc.

However, I would be definitely feeling uncomfortable with the way your Boss is going about.

One is not sure about the intent and the import of such initiatives.
Using one as a sounding board is one thing but choosing who would that be is another and that makes all the difference.

I am more concerned about how ‘Claire’ is going to use/misuse this privileged communication in the corporate context.

The danger in this cycle of communication is contained there.

Here whatever may be the style of the Manager , Claire is violating the confidentiality of having confided in you . You need to politely talk to her on this and insulate yourself from being quoted/misquoted in the future.

Mohan M Prasad

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LynS May 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm

My question to “Offended” would have to be, “How do you know about these discussions?” If “Claire” is repeating the details of the other team member’s performance problem to “Offended”, then she is probably violating some privacy/confidentiality protocol. In this case, she needs to be reminded that it is not her place to repeat confidential information, as lawsuits may ensue. If, on the other hand, “Claire” and the manager are being overheard as they discuss this employee, they both should probably be told (gently and politely) that they need to find a more private place for their discussion. Other than that, best advise is “MYOB” lest you be seen as jealous of your coworker’s rapport with your manager. (I say these things as one who has gone through a similar situation.)

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blc May 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Why can’t “offended” report it anonymously – the unprofessional way that their manager’s action are doing to the higher up or HR? Looks to me she’s not cut out to be in the management level. Cut down to the chase and get to the point if it bothers you that much…I would and not afraid of consequences.

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deemarie58 May 6, 2010 at 11:25 am

If it were me, I would be concerned about what my manager was discussing about me with others. There is an old saying that goes something like “if someone is talking to me about another person, they are usually talking about me to others”

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ABC May 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm

If the boss is talking about one employee, she’s probably talking about others, including “Offended”. I’d be concerned that the boss was blabbing about all the employees to other employees. What kind of culture does that breed?!

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