The Friendship Doctor

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Betrayed by the Office Gossip Girl

Build workplace friendships very slowly

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I took a new job and became friendly with a woman named Gina. Gina told me about her past mistakes and seemed very consumed with guilt over them. In the spirit of sympathy, I told Gina that what was done so long ago should be forgiven and that I certainly don't feel that she deserves to be condemned. Then I went on to tell her of a past mistake of mine, and that it was past and I didn't feel guilty over something that was done 30 years ago.

We had many conversations on breaks and a lot of information was shared. Well, yesterday at work, my boss warned me to be careful what I told Gina, and that all that I told her was repeated to the entire office! Of course I will now watch what I say more closely, but I'm mortified! How do I come back from this (if ever) at this job? I had hoped to make a friend or two and now just look like an idiot.

Signed,
Margie

 

ANSWER

Dear Margie:

I know you have a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach right now. That's understandable-but things aren't as bad as they seem. In your efforts to make new friends at work, you inadvertently fell prey to an office gossipmonger, someone who habitually brokers information about others to enhance her own sense of self-importance. Since your boss came to warn you about her, he already knows about Gina and her M.O. (modus operandi)---and doesn't have much respect for her.

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You can't take back the things you said to Gina. But unless you shared really juicy tidbits, I presume that the rest of the office staff will soon forget about anything they've heard---especially since Gina seems to have a reputation as a gossip (Even the boss knows about her!). Focus on doing your job and expanding your office contacts, slowly, so Gina becomes just one office acquaintance among many. This might also be a time to nurture close and trusting friendships outside the office.

Clearly, you can't trust Gina again. Depending on what feels more comfortable for you, you can either cut off non-essential contact with her entirely or calmly tell her that you hope she'll keep whatever you've told her in the past in confidence as you're concerned about your reputation at a new workplace.

While this was a hard lesson, it will make you more cautious in the future, which is a good thing. It's always prudent to build friendships slowly to make sure that you can trust a person before sharing too many intimacies. This is especially true in the workplace because you have fewer options in terms of being able to step away from the relationship without threatening your employment.

I hope this is helpful.

Best,
Irene

 

Have a question about friendship in the workplace? Email it to: Irene@TheFriendshipBlog.com

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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