Q: I think I am caught between a rock and a hard place, but I need confirmation. I work in an industry where everyone knows everyone, and people easily move from one company to another. Some of the key executives are great, but some make me wonder how they got there. They, too, move between companies. One in particular is bad news for everyone, and he has unjustifiably zeroed in on me.
I am professional, personable, polite, efficient and a workaholic. I have been a top performer for years in every job I've had and have always put my work first. I accepted a new position at a new company, and I am routinely putting my "all" into the work.
A key executive whom I've mentioned made a terribly insulting comment about me to my new boss. The criticism was made in front of others in the industry and is baseless and the furthest thing from the truth. My boss later told me what was said. I knew the man was not friendly to anyone (others have reported they feel uneasy when dealing with him), but he keeps getting promoted. His opinion about me was not solicited. It was his sole intention to damage my reputation to my boss; I have searched for reasons and have found none. I have always been polite and professional toward him. Now that I know he is willing to spread harmful gossip, I want to stop him. But I can't, because my boss told me about it in confidence.
This key executive is pure bad, so I understand why my boss could not say anything to defend me. This man would have added my boss to his hit list. What concerns me is that if he is willing to ruin my career without cause, he will continue to spread damaging lies about me to others in the industry as well. I usually know when someone dislikes me, but his behavior came out of nowhere, with no explainable reason. I know I never did anything to justify this kind of anger toward me. How do I save my reputation when I can't confront him? What can I do?
A: There is never justification for vindictive behavior. It's the product of a sick and angry mind. Because you've never behaved in any questionable manner towards this executive, his deep-seated anger may have randomly seeped out, and it seems you happened to be an easy, non-threatening target. You are probably not feeling this way now, but most people are good — or at least know how to behave appropriately in a business setting. His personal life may be another story.
It's wise of you to not expose your boss' honesty with you. If your boss agreed with this executive's criticism, you would not have been warned about the verbal attack. Now you know your boss likes and respects you, and you also know you have an enemy in a high place. Consider the information a warning and keep your guard up and your ears open. You will never know his reason for passing on damaging comments about you to others, nor does it matter. You and your boss know the comment bears no truth.
You could consult an attorney to discover legal ways to stop him — perhaps a letter threatening to sue. But once your attorney contacts him, he will know your boss has betrayed him. Then you may have two enemies instead of one.
If your job requires you to have contact with him, do whatever is necessary to be able to approach him with a polite and warm greeting, as if you have no clue as to what he has said about you. Pull out those hidden acting skills you may have used for church plays or for getting a parent to buy you something you didn't need; your success may depend upon how convincing you can be.
Without excusing this man, rest assured that a person who intentionally harms others without provocation is deeply unhappy or emotionally disturbed. While it is a shame to give him a pass, you may need to for now. Your choice is between remaining silent to keep your current job and seeking a legal remedy for stopping this top executive from spreading gossip that is harmful to your career. Because you're in a close-knit industry, you may need to wait until you can prove his bad-mouthing has hurt your chances of advancing in your company or moving to another.
Email career and life coach at [email protected] with your workplace issues and experiences. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.