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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Tattle at Work (Without Being a Tattletale)

people talking
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In a perfect world, you’d be blessed with amazing co-workers who always have your back, pull their weight, and are generally pleasant to be around.

Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect. And so are people.

Believe it or not, even your favorite colleagues may drop the ball or act unfavorably every so often. And, sometimes, you just get stuck with a dud. He makes you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around him, he constantly throws you under the bus, and he never, ever submits his part of the project on time.

Most people don’t like being a snitch. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes it’s in the best interest for the company (and you) to tell on your teammate. And, yes, you can do that without being a tattletale, as long as you keep these three things in mind before running to your manager.

1. Determine if You Actually Need to Report the Issue

At my first “real” job, one of my teammates constantly bragged about how busy she was. We had extremely similar roles, so I was curious as to why our experiences seemed so different.

And then, one day, as she was showing me something on her computer, she brought her calendar up on the screen. Besides a few meetings scattered throughout the week, it looked pretty empty to me. I was baffled. On a normal day, I had back-to-back meetings from 9 AM until 5 PM or later.

For a few weeks, it bugged me that she seemed to have so much more free time than I did. That she made believe she was absolutely swamped, but, in reality, she wasn’t at all.

But here’s the thing—though we had the same job title, we were assigned to completely different clients. There wouldn’t have been an instance in which she’d have taken assignments off my plate. So, this really wasn’t affecting me, nor was it affecting the team. Telling my boss about it would’ve equated to senseless whining, something that isn’t often desired or respected anywhere.

As a summer playground leader, I used to say to the kids, “Unless she’s hurting you, herself, or someone else, I don’t want to hear about it.” And I’m fairly confident this can be applied to work, too. Your co-worker may be doing something annoying, but if her actions aren’t directly impacting anyone else, you need to forget about it and move on.

tattle at work

2. Talk to the Person First

If you’re having a problem with a colleague, she probably won’t react very well if the first time she hears about it is from someone else. Especially if you interact with her regularly. Think about it—how do you feel when you think everything’s fine and dandy between you and a friend, and then you hear from a third party that she actually thinks you’re trash? Pretty crappy, right?

So, prior to escalating things, try talking to her. To do this successfully, make this interaction a conversation, not a confrontation. The difference between the two is that, as Muse writer Victoria Pynchon says, the latter tends to imply blame, which typically causes people to either put a wall up or completely shut down.

“A conversation,” Pynchon explains, “suggests an opportunity to share your concerns and listen—without judgment—to someone else’s narrative of events. It suggests understanding differences and identifying similarities.”

And I know—these conversations can be super uncomfortable. But, if you ask your supervisor to just take care of it, your co-worker won’t only be blindsided, but she’ll probably lose trust in you, too. That doesn’t resolve things, nor does it set you all up for smooth sailing in the future.

3. Focus on the Problem, Not the Person

If Nicole is responsible for submitting your team’s annual report to the client and it’s days past due, then the problem is Nicole, right? Horrible employee, evil person.

I mean, maybe. (But probably not.)

The main dilemma here is that a major deliverable is late, and that could potentially impact the company and its bottom line. That’s what you should focus on when you approach your supervisor about it. Not Nicole.

So, rather than storming in and huffing about how she’s the worst person to work with ever, try saying something like, “I’m having trouble working with Nicole on deadlines and I’d love your help in figuring out the best way to communicate that to her so that we deliver the presentation on-time to the client. We met last week to speak about it and it appears that I can’t resolve the issue on my own.”

The truth is, the only person who’s going to look bad if you start trash talking your teammates is you. And if Nicole really is an evil, no-good human being, your manager will eventually figure it out. (That is, if she hasn’t already.)

Plus, when you ask for advice, rather than a solution, it makes you look like the kind of person who wants to address issues directly, rather than a whiner.

Now, unfortunately, there are going to be some situations that are 100% unacceptable such as verbal or physical harassment. If this is happening to you, you should absolutely name the person at fault and advocate for yourself. Because in that case, part of the problem is definitely the person.

Those types of serious issues aside, there will always be aspects you don’t like about your job and, oftentimes, you’re not going to be over the moon about every single person you work with.

But if your colleague’s doing something you don’t approve of, make sure it’s something your boss actually needs to know. And if it is, remember to revolve the conversation around the individual’s actions, not the individual. If you’re looking out for the good of the team and the company, that’s not tattling.