Office Gossip: The Other Green Eyed Monster

Word of mouth of secret between people


“What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” -Jewish Proverb

My friend Jen used to describe her best friend since childhood, Tracy, as a complete screw-up. Every time she would mention her, she would roll her eyes and bring up Tracy’s latest failed relationship or the crazy man in her life. I had never met Tracy and I have to admit, without any other evidence to the contrary, I began to think of Tracy as a screw-up too.

I attended a social gathering at Jen’s house one evening and was speaking to a woman who was bright, articulate and had recently left her cushy job as a consultant and started her own business. Being her own boss allowed her to jet about the world, exploring fascinating places, with some really good friends. What a great life she has, I thought to myself.

Can you guess who the woman was? Yes, it was Tracy, “the screw-up”. Tracy certainly seemed to have a darn near perfect life. I was shocked because the person before me was virtually unrecognizable to the person described consistently by her “friend”, Jen. All of Tracy’s positive attributes had been glaringly ignored in Jen’s description. So, it turns out that the one area of Tracy’s life in which she had difficulty was romantic relationships. Hey, don’t we all?

There is a Spanish proverb that says, “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” So, it was a wake-up call to see how Jen treated Tracy. If she was maligning the reputation of a best friend since childhood, the prospects for how I would eventually be treated were not good.

It also occurred to me that if Tracy ever hit a snag in any other area of her life, Jen was more likely to be happy about it than comforting and supportive. Someone who gossips is one who finds the human imperfections in another (or makes them up altogether), puts them down about it (instead of offering help and support) and then invites others to do the same. Who needs a friend like that?

Over time, it became clear to me that Jen was a jealous person who protected her own ego by focusing only on the negative aspects of others. I was careful to keep my distance from Jen from then on and was not surprised one bit when I, too, became the object of her gossip. The relationship was no great loss. By then, I felt as if the “Jen” chapter in my life had already closed.

Before I had any evidence to the contrary, I admit I had assumed Tracy to be as she was characterized by someone else. However, very quickly upon meeting her, I felt that my assumption was off. I was much happier to meet an interesting person than a screw-up. The next time Jen started rolling her eyes and focusing on Tracy’s latest failed relationship, I surmised aloud that Tracy was consoling herself on a gorgeous tropical island with lots of friends, since she had the money, freedom and friends to do so. Jen met my comments with a shrug and silence.

At first I could not understand why Jen’s other friends did not speak up in the same way. In fact, they seemed to have the same negative perspective about Tracy as Jen did. They, too, would be quiet about all of her positive attributes and vocal about the latest chapter in her romantic life – much of it behind Tracy’s back. These were not unintelligent people. Couldn’t they see what a neat person she was? The whole thing was so strange. They almost seemed invested in keeping Tracy as “the screw-up”.

Well, that was a long time ago. I now realize that Jen and her friends were, in fact, very invested in characterizing Tracy as “the screw-up”. Tracy had a better job than most of Jen and her friends. Tracy made significantly more money than they did and had the freedom in her professional life to be her own boss – something many of us dream about.

Tracy was stumbling a bit in her romantic life but had close friendships – apart from Jen’s crowd. Jen and her friends seemed to equate their married status to their social status, regardless of the quality of their marriages, so in this regard they felt superior to Tracy. The more they focused on what they saw as the problem area in her life, they could ignore the many parts of her life that were incredibly successful.

Looking back I realized that Jen and her friends were pretty insecure about themselves and could only handle someone like Tracy by ignoring her many positive attributes and hyper-focusing on her human foibles. I’m thrilled that I didn’t fit in with them. As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs enemies?

The next time you hear another maligned, keep in mind that you may be hearing nothing more than gossip and that jealousy may be at play. Where there is smoke there is not always fire. Jen’s friends willingly adopted the lie that she perpetuated because they had the same feelings of jealousy about Tracy. However, that lie will never be the truth – no matter how many people join in to perpetuate it. As in Tracy’s case, the only truth was that her supposed friends were all aligned in their attempt to tear her down in order to make themselves feel better.

Mischaracterizing someone, gossip and spreading rumors about another person is abuse. Aligning with someone who does those things, by agreeing with them, taking action based on the lies or by standing silently by and not refuting them, is also abuse. Taking steps to stop this abuse involves being vigilant about our own behavior toward others and making sure gossip stops as soon as it reaches us.

Gossip and rumors can spread like wildfire – but fortunately, so can calm. On my next blog, I will detail what methods all of us can employ to stop gossip and rumors in their tracks.

Have you been the subject of another’s gossip?


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