• Keeping Friends

Workplace friendships: Betrayed by the gossip girl

Published: January 23, 2010 | Last Updated: February 25, 2013 By | 13 Replies Continue Reading
In the workplace, it’s particularly important to build friendships slowly before sharing too many intimacies.


Dear Irene,

I took a new job and became friendly with a woman named Gina. Gina told me about her past mistakes and seemed very consumed with guilt over them. In the spirit of sympathy, I told Gina that what was done so long ago should be forgiven and that I certainly don’t feel that she deserves to be condemned. Then I went on to tell her of a past mistake of mine, and that it was past and I didn’t feel guilty over something that was done 30 years ago.

We had many conversations on breaks and a lot of information was shared. Well, yesterday at work, my boss warned me to be careful what I told Gina, and that all that I told her was repeated to the entire office! Of course I will now watch what I say more closely, but I’m mortified! How do I come back from this (if ever) at this job? I had hoped to make a friend or two and now just look like an idiot.

Signed, Margie


Dear Margie:

I know you have a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach right now. That’s understandable-but things aren’t as bad as they seem. In your efforts to make a new friend at work, you inadvertently fell prey to an office gossipmonger, someone who habitually brokers information about others to enhance her own sense of self-importance. Since your boss came to warn you about her, he already knows about Gina and her M.O. (modus operandi)—and doesn’t have much respect for her.

You can’t take back the things you said to Gina. But unless you shared really juicy tidbits, I presume that the rest of the office staff will soon forget about anything they’ve heard—especially since Gina seems to have a reputation as a gossip (even the boss knows about her!). Focus on doing your job and expanding your office contacts, slowly, so Gina becomes just one office acquaintance among many. This might also be a time to nurture close and trusting friendships outside the office.

Clearly, you can’t trust Gina again. Depending on what feels more comfortable for you, you can either cut off all non-essential contact with her entirely or calmly tell her that you hope she’ll keep whatever you’ve told her in the past in confidence as you’re concerned about your reputation at a new workplace.

While this was a hard lesson, it will make you more cautious in the future, which is a good thing. It’s always prudent to build friendships slowly to make sure that you can trust a person before sharing too many intimacies. This is especially true in the workplace because you have fewer options in terms of being able to step away from the relationship without threatening your employment.

I hope this is helpful.

Best, Irene


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  1. Can a friendship overcome a terrible betrayal? : The Friendship Blog | February 28, 2013
  1. Anonymous says:

    You are right I need to move on from this as it seems past resolution. It’s just so hard when you have to face it day in day out – it’s like a constant reminder of a lost friendship. Also I find their ignorance hard to take. I’m all for forgiving and forgetting, however some people hold onto grudge that seem so small and petty. You are right though and thanks for your advice.

  2. Irene says:

    It sounds like you are still very hurt and consumed with this relationship. You have no reason to feel guilty for the relationship taking the course it did. You previously said there was tension between you even before she was diagnosed.

    You’ve done whatever you could to make peace with her and she hasn’t accepted your overtures. So I think nodding and saying hello when you are with other people is the only thing you can do at this point.

    Try to shift your focus on your children, your husband and other relationships. Analyzing your ex-BFF or the situation over and over won’t help you understand it and will only make you feel worse.

    I hope this helps!





  3. Anonymous says:

    I wrote months back about my ex BFF who had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer literally within weeks of us falling out. Things between us don’t seem to have gotten any better and the reason is because I have given up trying to make an effort with her. We had met up and agreed to be civil but she seemed to want me to do all of the chasing. I sent her flowers, cards, good luck messages, tried to call her. Our sons go to school together and on her first day back to taking him she ran up to me delighted to see me even intimating we should have a coffee together. She said “alot of water had gone under the bridge” so we went our separate ways and since then have virtually ignored each other. The problem is though I feel guilty about ignoring her. We always nod hello but never engage in conversation yet see each other weekly sometimes daily at school, football etc. She comes and stands near me as if she wants to talk but I cannot bring myself to as I made such an effort yet she is not prepared to make any at all. My husband tells me she suffers passive aggression and wants me to have nothing to do with her. Part of me agrees she has constantly given me mixed messages, is never completely honest with her feelings unless she is blowing up and has said some nasty things to me in the past. My family tell me I am better out of it. I have some lovely friends who have given me more time than she ever has yet I can’t forget her. Coming into contact contact doesn’t help, but it’s so awkward. My dilemma I suppose is guilt, she has been ill yet I don’t feel like she has been a nice person to me. I also don’t like treating passive aggression with passive aggression but don’t know how to treat her.

  4. Irene says:

    Your friend may not be ready to receive ANY visitors so don’t take it personally.

    Maybe you want to wait another week and then send her an email and tell her that you would love to get together if she is up to it.





  5. Anonymous says:

    It has been two weeks now since my friend has had her operation, I have asked her husband how she is and he has been polite but not overly friendly. I sent her a card and also an e mail asking how she is. She replied to my e mail and thanked me for the card but has not yet extended an invite. I haven’t called but she knows I am thinking of her. Should I just leave it at that ? I would love to have a chat woth her.

  6. Irene says:

    Thanks so much for such an insightful and understanding post! It should be helpful to many readers!




  7. Anonymous says:

    Maybe she doesn’t want to burden you with her aches, pains, fears and worries. Often when people get sick or have trouble, friends disappear. Friends do tend to disappear just when we need them the most, and so probably she didn’t call you because she didn’t want to be the “clingy friend” who is always talking about her problems.

    When you didn’t call her, probably she figured you were one of those friends who isn’t going to be there for her, “put it in perspective, and decided not to pester you or try to get you to come see her, when you don’t want to.

    Usually the person who is sick has to conserve their energy. You go to them, you don’t try to make them come to you and prove how much they want your friendship. Sure, you want to respect their boundaries, but you can’t expect them to do all the work when they’re recuperating from illness. The same thing applies to people who are grieving for a relative.

    She may glaze over a lot, or look miserable or angry, because she’s on a little trip in her head wishing she still looked like she did before the surgery or wishing that it never happened. She’s grieving. Losing a breast is very private, and she may not want to talk about it, but it’s going to be on her mind for awhile.

    She may be giving you space because she knows she’s not going to be any fun for quite some time, and her “we’ll see,” may be as much about knowing her own limitations and pain, as it is about you or anything you’ve done.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your reply it has helped me see how difficult it has been for her. When I spoke to her the other day she intimated it was her husband who is against our friendship. He saw my husband and completely ignored him, I know she could do without additional stress on their relationship that is why I need to keep a distance but hope she knows it’s not because I don’t care.

  9. Irene says:

    When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, her life can be overtaken with doctor visits, scheduling and waiting for the results of tests, learning about the illness, making preparations for surgery, making alternate plans for work/child care, etc. and adjusting emotionally to life with a serious illness. Cut her a little slack for not calling you—especially if there was tension between you already. 


    It sounds like you are genuninely sorry about your friend’s illness but that doesn’t mean that you need to grovel at her feet either. I think you need to let some time pass for yourself right now. Let her recuperate from surgery, send her a card, and then decide whether you want to visit her or wait for her invitation.


    Hope this is helpful!




  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Thank you for your reply, but after sleeping on this I have several questions regarding our friendship. Despite the fact that I am genuinely sorry that she has got this, she was diagnosed over 7 weeks ago, she has not spoken to me for 10 weeks or more and even last week she was looking through me like I was a dead person. Her and her husband have been ostracizing me for months over something relatively insignificant. Now I question if she actually needs me as a friend after all why didn’t she call me. She said it had allowed her to put things in perspective, therefore wouldn’t she have called and not seen me several times since and completely ignored me. When I told her I would like to know how she is getting on she just kept saying “we’ll see”. It is apparent I’m not needed, I have decided once she has her operation I will send a Get Well card and leave the rest to her. If she wants me to visit I do feel she will need to ask me. Does this all sound harsh ? I’m trying to understand but finding it had.

  11. Irene says:

    You sound like you have all the right instincts and have done all the right things. Moreover, even though your friend is under a lot of stress, it sounds like she appreciated and acknowledged your kindness.

    My suggestion would be to wait until after her surgery and then call or send your friend a note with the same thoughts that you articulated in your post. Tell her that you want to be there for her if it will help her recovery but you want to make sure you respect her feelings.

    Oddly, her illness may make the difficulties between you diminish in importance. Let us know what happens.


  12. Anonymous says:

    Hi I fell out with my best friend before Christmas, after a number of fall outs we haven’t spoken for two months until today when my ex friend told me she had breast cancer. She discovered shortly before Christmas and is being operated on next week. This has left me reeling with shock and guilt. I feel awful that I haven’t been there for her. Also it became very awkward before Christmas as our respective husbands are also not speaking to each other (we were all close taking holidays together etc). Now I am not sure how to act with her as I want to be there for her but am conscious that alot of upset happened and also do not want to add to her stress by being in her life again as before this things got quite difficullt between us. I still think alot of her and would like to do my best by her but am not sure how. I have sent her some flowers telling her I am thinking of her and she called to thank me, as for our friendship I not sure how this will leave us. I don’t want to cross the line and seem as if I pushing for the friendship when she is going through a difficult time but also do not want to seem uncaring, as I am very concerned for her. She has good family and other friends.

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