Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where luddites, white knights and playwrights alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about what to do when you learn personal information about a coworker.
I have an interesting situation developing at my office. I have learned that a co-worker’s girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. Mark, the best friend, used to work here, too, but got fired and doesn’t really talk to me anymore. My question is, do I tell Johnny, the cheating victim, about this? One the one hand, I don’t know Johnny that well and have no proof; it’d be my word against Mark’s and Johnny has much less reason to believe me. On the other hand, knowing a guy is being deceived like this, by his best friend no less, does not sit well with me at all and I feel compelled to say something.
To make matters more complicated, Johnny’s mother is very sick. This caused him to move out of his girlfriend’s place and into his mother’s suburban home so he can take care of her. Bringing up this topic to Johnny feels almost cruel when he has a lot on his mind already, but at the same time wouldn’t it be worse if time passes and Johnny learns after the fact that all the support his girlfriend gave him during a tough time was duplicitous?
Thanks for listening,
Life would be so much easier if secrets stayed secret, and everyone kept their business to themselves, wouldn’t it? Alas, though; that ain’t the world we live in. You don’t say how you learned about Johnny’s girlfriend’s (let’s call her Lisa) infidelity, but you did, and you can’t un-learn it. It’s like some strange dog wandered into your living room and took a poo on your carpet — it’s not your doing (it’s not even your dog!), but you still get to deal with the mess.
That being said, I think that in this situation, dealing with the mess involves you staying entirely out of this. You’re right that the situation Johnny is in utterly, totally sucks. Sick mother, cheating girlfriend, backstabbing best friend; it sounds like a bad movie (or a good country song). But your role in this isn’t even part of the story, and I don’t think you want it to be.
My answer might be different if you were the best friend and the not-close former coworker were the other man, because then you would owe Johnny some loyalty and probably need to talk to him. I’m not certain that my advice would be to run to him immediately even then, but your obligations to him would be a lot firmer than they are now.
It’s great to make friends at work. The concept of a “work spouse” is well established, and there are plenty of bro-workers out there. That being said, it doesn’t seem like that’s where you are with Johnny. You’re just coworkers, and while he’s someone you have a cordial relationship with, you’re not involved in his personal life, nor he in yours. To keep things professional, and maintain your work relationship, it should stay that way.
Think about it this way: when Johnny learns that Mark and Lisa are running around behind his back, is he going to go to you for comfort? Absolutely not; you don’t know each other that way, and you wouldn’t and can’t support him the way a close friend would. If you don’t have the kind of relationship where you would be involved in dealing with the inevitable fallout, you don’t have the kind of relationship that obligates you to spill the beans in the first place.
One way or another, eventually, the truth will out. It’s going to feel weird, knowing that you know something about your coworker’s life that he doesn’t, but for everyone’s sake, I think you should leave this bombshell where you found it.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.