Q: A co-worker has been causing trouble for me, claiming I’m not doing my job and am stealing her ideas. None of it is true, but I don’t know how to stop these rumors. What can I do?
Ed, 34, process analyst
A: This is a serious risk, and you can’t afford to just overlook it.
But first, be sure you are 100 percent confident about what is happening. When you get into the realm of rumors, there can be layers on top of layers.
If you’re hearing about this second-, or even third-hand, make sure the information you have is accurate.
At the same time, understanding the back story on these actions is also important.
Why might she be making these claims? The reasons could vary and may lead to different actions on your part.
Imagine that she thinks she’s speaking the truth. In that case, she may feel she is protecting herself or looking out for the team or the organization.
Think carefully about why she would have that impression. Have there been cases where you may have had similar ideas, for example, or that someone else may have dropped the ball but you took the fall?
In this situation you may want to talk to your boss or some other trusted person and arrange for a mediated conversation to clear the air. This could lead to a positive outcome by simply eliminating a misunderstanding.
On the other hand, she may have ill intent in making these claims. Is there bad blood between you for any reason, professional or other?
Even if nothing has gone wrong between you, she may be seeking advancement at your expense, or she may be a person who likes to exploit a power differential.
This, of course, is the more dangerous situation … and it does happen. If you are sure this is going on, you’ll need to escalate it to get help.
Just going in with your word against hers may not be enough, though, so be sure to document the events that have occurred.
She is likely to try to gaslight you, trying to get you to question the validity of your own experience.
What’s worse is that other people may do that, too, motivated by a desire to just make the problem go away. That’s piling abuse on top of abuse, so don’t tolerate it.
I’m also wondering if this is a pattern for her or if it’s an isolated incident. It’s not tolerable in either case; however, if there’s a pattern, it’s especially important to document so that the company can take action.
Then consider what your options are if your organization doesn’t have your back.
I have noticed that companies can be passive and risk-avoidant, especially of the perpetrator is likely to fight back aggressively.
Be careful not to be too meek or too patient in your expectations for action.
At the very least, you should expect an apology and to have her work adjusted to eliminate contact between you. You should not have to be reassigned, especially if you like the work and your team.
It’s no fair to punish you by making you change, so be ready to advocate for your rights.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.