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Career Q&A | By Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune

Snitches sabotage success

Q: How should I deal with an office tattletale?

Several readers via e-mail and Twitter

A: First, it's necessary to recognize that the core problem with an office tattletale is not so much that the person is ratting you out. It's that the snitch is robbing the workplace of trust.

"Whoever is in charge needs to address a tattler quickly," said Bill Krug, an associate professor of technology, leadership and innovation at Purdue University. "A tattler can quickly destroy morale. The long-term outcome can be increased conflict in the workplace."

As much as a boss might like knowing they have an informant among the employees, Krug said allowing a tattler to run amok will do more harm than good in the long haul.

Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of StressDoc.com, said an employee being pestered by a tattletale can't be shy about bringing the problem to a manager. But the employee should make it clear that they just want to have an open discussion about what's happening.

"If you feel you're being tattled on, talk to the boss and say, 'Hey, if this person has a problem with me, I'm more than happy to sit down with you and them and do something about it,' " Gorkin said. "Ask, 'Would you sit down with us? Let's talk about it. ... Get it out in the open.' "

Gorkin added that if you're not comfortable addressing the tattletale issue directly with your boss, find another way to communicate the concern.

"You can try to find a colleague of the boss who has the boss' ear, who isn't going to betray you. Someone you feel you can trust. ”

Even if you can't hang out, you can still work to fit in

Q: I really don't want to socialize with co-workers during lunch or after work for happy hours. It's nothing personal. I just have two young kids and a needy husband with whom I'd rather spend my free time. How do I avoid coming across like I don't want to be part of the team?

Gwen in Bloomington, Ill., by e-mail

A: For reasonable folks, there is a general sense that, if invited, you need to hang out with co-workers. You want to be seen as a team player, a cool colleague, even if you'd much rather be home spending time with your family or, possibly, your couch.

But socializing outside the office might not be as important as people think.

Kerry Patterson, an expert in organizational behavior and co-author of the book Crucial Conversations, said he has seen time and again that people value a colleague who is helpful in the workplace far more than one who is social after hours.

"As you get into careers, you find the more important element of being social is stepping up to friends and colleagues at work and pitching in when things are busy and people need help the most," Patterson said. "If you're sitting around at work and you're constantly looking at where you can help, people value that way more than someone they can go drinking with."

That doesn't mean that there isn't a need to spend some time socializing with co-workers — the better you know the people you work with, the easier it is to interact. But if you don't want to impinge on your nonwork life, find social opportunities during work hours.

"I had to learn how to say, 'I'd love to get to know you and spend more time together; maybe we can get lunch or meet on a break sometime,' " Patterson said. "And then you need to actually do it. You need to follow through. You need to maximize those social interactions during the working hours."

Snitches sabotage success 09/16/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011 2:17pm]
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