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How to Deal With an Indiscreet Boss

Estimated reading time: 7 mins

Professionalism at the workplace is something that comes from the top to bottom. Your boss is the person most responsible for setting a certain tone at the office for all others to follow. I have worked under many different kinds of bosses and I have seen their personality reflect in the company and the way it felt to be a part of it, and show their pride in it.

A casual, friendly boss will make way for a more casual, laidback environment, while a more serious, bureaucratic boss will define a more serious, hierarchical environment. In the same way, an indiscreet boss can lead to an environment of distrust, where people do not feel like their personal issues or the company confidential information are safe. This can be a big problem and can affect all functions within the company.

The thing with an indiscreet boss is that s/he is breaking an essential pillar of a great relationship at workplace – s/he is breaking your trust. Moreover, it does not have to be only telling people things about you – it can also be that s/he is sharing information that you should not know and is trusting that you will be much more discreet than him/her. Either way, it is wrong and shows that the person cannot be trusted. In this blog, I will highlight all the not-so-cool things your boss can be talking about and how you can deal with these weird situations.

It can be very demoralizing, disheartening and straight out disturbing to hear your boss say things that s/he should not be telling you. This is because s/he is sending out signals to you that in this company, you can share whatever secret information about your fellow colleagues or confidential information about your company with anyone. This will definitely make you trust your boss less as you never know when what you share with him/her becomes the news all over your office. This will also signal that now you have no one in the office to share your thoughts with, which can be upsetting. However, you do not have to be a silent accomplice to all of this indiscreet gossip. Here are a few things that you can do to help you deal with such an uncomfortable situation:

Try to Change the Subject. In the event of your boss passing a cheap comment about a colleague or sharing an office gossip in a team meeting, you have limited options of speaking up, to avoid making your boss lose face. The best thing that you can do here is break the flow of conversation or bring the focus back to the main topic of the meeting. You can say something like, “Alright, we are running out of time. Let ‘s get back to the task at hand.” Never try to add fuel to the fire and join in the conversation – not only will this make you lose respect among others, it can be more seriously, held against you if anyone reports the entire matter to the HR.

Do Not Join the Bandwagon. This whole situation can actually be a lot more complex if the boss is confiding in you in private. This might give you a false feeling of being the trusted ally of a very important person in the company and might make you feel proud. For some people like me, this can turn out to be a very awkward situation as you might just not know how to respond to something like that. You might be just thinking in your head something like ‘what am I supposed to do here’. Even though it might look like the boss is rewarding you by becoming a closer member of his team, you will need to be vary of what information you share in return. Trust me – if s/he has gossiped about someone else, s/he WILL gossip about you too! So how do you tackle such a situation? Here are some tips to help you.

  1. Simply Decline the Invitation – This can be easier for you to tell your boss if you already are close to him/her. Just let them know that you do not feel comfortable talking about such things. However, this might not work that well if your relationship is new and not that strong.
  2. Discuss the Circumstances, Avoid the People – One tried and tested method of yours truly is to divert the conversation towards the circumstances and away from the people. So let us say, if your boss says anything about a colleague’s communication skills, talk about what exercises the company can hold to improve everyone’s communication skills. This might encourage your boss to have a more meaningful, productive conversation and not just some insulting party of a team member.
  3. Give a Fresh Perspective – If you are comfortable enough with your boss (and that is a Big IF), you might want to give a counterbalance notion to his/her judgement. For instance, if your boss complains to you about a colleague coming in late at work, you might want to counter that by telling how the same colleague is still able to deliver things in time or how s/he makes up for the lost time by sitting late. This will tell your boss that you will not simply agree with whatever s/he says.
  4. Stay Neutral to the Situation – It is possible that your boss will continue escalating the situation and harp on that colleague. However, you should try to remain as neutral as you can. Keep yourself diplomatic, so that if someone was secretly taping you, there should be nothing to make you feel ashamed.

Discuss This With Your Boss. If the situation continues, it will be crucial that you have a discussion with your boss, no matter how difficult it may be. Stay calm and collected and keep the conversation balanced. You might even start on a positive note, like appreciating how your boss is helping you fit in and guiding you along the way and then you can be more direct about what you did not like about the conversation. Whatever you do, make sure that you end the conversation with bringing it back to appreciating your boss for all his/her efforts. I know it can be a bit tricky and you might be too frustrated to talk any positives. However, it is important to have the right balance in your communication so the message goes across more effectively and without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Speak to the HR. In case you feel that nothing is working out, you might want to discuss the matter with other senior resources or the HR. The objective of your conversation needs to be that you want to help the company achieve a more discreet, professional environment, where there is respect for everyone.

Give your Boss a Break. I would also advise you all not to be too critical of your bosses. Do not hold your bosses to a standard that is not achievable. We all are humans and we can get frustrated at times, making us want to confide in people who we trust. Cut your boss some slack and let him/her blurt out some words if it is a one-off. However, if you think that this is more of a habit and a routine that s/he follows almost regularly, then you might want to believe that your boss really is someone who is indiscreet and untrustworthy.

Below is the summary of the principles that you will always need to remember when faced with an indiscreet boss.

DO:

  • Change the topic just to break the flow of the conversation, bringing back the focus to the main tasks.
  • Try to stay neutral and give fresh, unbiased perspective to the entire situation.
  • Get in touch with another trusted senior colleague or the HR. Let them know your concerns and show that you really want to help improve the culture of your workplace.

DON’T:

  • Ever consider that your boss is an angel and needs to be perfect at all times. While they should be professional at most of the times, they can have some slip-ups once a while.
  • Add fuel to the conversation when your boss is gossiping. This will make you an accomplice and mimicking a bad behavior will only get you in trouble.
  • Give a shut up call to your boss about their indiscretions, as it will make them lose face. Keep things private and say whatever you want to say, one-on-one, with a simple and positive message.

Remember that respect is something you earn. Try to earn respect of your seniors as well as juniors and give it in return. Be the best version of yourself at your workplace and the rest will be fine. If a boss tries to be indiscreet with you, just think that you are better than they are and try to resolve matters as professionally as possible.

Let me know in the comments section if you have ever had an indiscreet boss and how did you manage the situation. Do also check our other blogs on similar topics, like 6 Tell-Tale Signs that Your Boss Wants You to Fail and How To Deal With An Angry Boss.

 
This post is part 15 of 16 in the series You and Your Boss

About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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