Question: How do I deal with a gossiping colleague who is affecting my working relationship with subordinates?

I am a senior dentist at a non-profit (150 employees) in a small community. Opportunities for formal coaching for staff are few due to limited financial resources and our director is averse to dealing with conflict situations.

I have had several colleagues inside and outside of my workplace telling me about a gossiping co-worker, and its negative effects with my subordinates. She cultivates friendships with them outside of the workplace, and undermines me. I have noticed my subordinates acting more disrespectful of my authority as time goes by. How should I handle this? How can I get a conflict-averse upper management to take action? Thank you!

3 Expert Insights

What conversation should you be having with this co-worker. There is a safe way to have a conversation and I would be happy to share a book summary that would give you a great insight into how to do so. You can reach me for a complimentary copy.

First, let me say how uncomfortable this must be!  My recommendation would be to address this yourself.  Prepare to have a conversation with the person who has been gossiping.  Plan ahead what you will say - including what you've observed, the impact on the workplace, and a direct request for changing this behavior.  She may deny any responsibility, and if so you need to prepare for that as well.  You will also want to consider the hierarchical relationship you have with this co-worker - is she a peer, a direct report, a staff member who reports to someone other than you? I would be happy to help you plan your next steps.  

There are two elements of what you've written that stand out to me:

Element One: You've had several colleagues inside and outside of your workplace telling you about a gossiping co-worker, and the negative effects that's having with your subordinates.

Element Two: You've also noticed that your subordinates acting more disrespectful of your authority as time goes by.

Re: Element Two – This would be the more substantive issue of the two, so hit this one head on by sitting down with each disrespectful subordinate and simply stating that showing you, their supervisor, proper (more) respect is a "formal requirement of their job." As such, future infractions will be dealt with in accordance with company performance management practices, which can lead up to, and potentially even include, termination. Let them know, as well, that whether they choose to show you more respect, or not, is entirely their choice -- you just wanted to "formally inform" them about the potential consequences of their actions.  What's absolutely lovely about this approach is that you don't need to get wound up about it; it's a matter-of-fact piece of information that you wanted to be sure to share with them so that they understood. After all, that IS the respectful thing to do. Tell them, as well, that you will be preparing a memo that "formally documents" your discussion (along with any response and/or commitment they'd like you to include for them) for their permanent employee files and upper management's information. Then thank them for their time and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

Re: Element One – So lemme get this learned, from gossiping with others, that the person you were gossiping about has been gossiping about you?! [Pause for effect.] Let it go, my friend. If you handle Element Two the way I suggested, that gossiper will soon have no one to gossip to.