DEAR AMY: Recently, I ended an on-and-off relationship with a co-worker. What makes this situation even messier than it already should be is the fact that I ended it because I caught him sleeping with our boss. While our personal relationship was allowed (although secret), other co-workers and I are all aware that his ongoing relationship with our boss would likely lead to both of them being terminated. Our boss is aware of the past he and I share, but the two of them have continued their relationship. Worse even, they continue to be rude to me in the workplace and make me very uncomfortable. Even passing these people in the hallway has become intolerable, but I am otherwise happy with my job and do not wish to leave. How can I (or should I), bring this up to HR (or a higher level) without seeming like a scorned lover who wants revenge?
DEAR WONDERING: But — you are a scorned lover seeking revenge. I assume that jilted lovers are the primary vehicles for HR learning about workplace problems.
By sleeping around at the office, your co-worker risks facing the exact scenario you are describing. His relationship with you was “allowed,” presumably because you either don’t report to each other or are of equal professional status. His relationship with your boss is not allowed because his boss is in a position to damage his (or your) status at work.
Although I don’t think rudeness in the hallway or your discomfort about this is necessarily actionable, this seems to have created the classic “toxic” environment at work, at least for you. HR can counsel you and/or reprimand both other parties.
DEAR AMY: I am lucky enough to have access to a small beach home, and I love going to the beach. Unfortunately, there is a little clutch of people who live nearby who enjoy getting together at the beach. They seem to think it is their right to make fun of people or to talk about those who are missing from their little group that day. They are the neighborhood gossips, who know everything about everyone. They like to persuade people to sit with them. Anybody who sits with them witnesses their childlike behavior. If you don’t sit with them, they say you are a snob. My response is, “I just need some peace and quiet — alone.” That is really not true, Amy. I like talking to some people at the beach, but I don’t like to destroy people who don’t happen to be in the group. These people are loudmouths, and one especially can be crude (to say the least), but I think people are afraid not to be with them for fear that they will become the center of talk. The worst thing is that this makes me want to avoid the beach. But why should we have to avoid the beach? Do you have a response to end this petty nonsense? Beach season is here, and I want to enjoy it.
DEAR SURF LOVER: There is no question that regular cliques form on the beach, with groups of people gathering together to claim their usual spots, but please — don’t turn the beach into the middle-school cafeteria.
You don’t seem to want to join this clique of beach-meanies, so don’t. Wave and say hello and head to another spot. You don’t need to declare your intention to be alone. Be cordial and friendly, but don’t join them. It is your precious vacation, and you should spend it exactly the way you want to.
If you do join them, the way to avoid being the topic of mean gossips is to starve them of the oxygen that turns their sparks into a flame. You do this by being polite and asking them a couple of innocuous questions so they can talk about themselves. If they make unkind and uncalled for remarks about others in your presence, you should be brave enough to say, “Whoa. That’s not fair.” If you are branded a snob because you are kind and considerate, then own it with pride.
DEAR AMY: “Homeowner” was concerned about unkind remarks family members might make during a housewarming party because of their slightly run-down neighborhood (which Homeowner likes). Inviting neighbors to this housewarming party would allow both sides to take the measure of the other. It would be inclusive, and might also prevent these unkind assumptions before they take hold.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Of course! Great advice. Thank you.