Bosses Are Trash-Talking Each Other? Ask Madeleine


Dear Madeleine,

I work for a small company in a small city. I really like my job, but the atmosphere in my office is so toxic I am not sure I can live with it.

This is my first real job. My immediate boss took me under his wing, taught me the business, and he has my back. He is not without his flaws, but I have made my peace with them and I appreciate everything he has done for me. His boss is the owner of the company—a great guy who hired me and gave me a chance.

The problem is that each man trash talks the other one when the other one leaves the office. Our space isn’t very big—just an office manager and eight or ten guys at any given time—so everybody hears it. Then, when the absent one comes in, it is all “Hey, how are you?”—buddy buddy.

It is weird and off putting. Is this normal office behavior? Should I try talking to my boss? If so, what should I say?

Hate the Trash Talk

Dear Hate the Trash Talk,

No. It isn’t normal. It’s messed up.

I am sorry you have to deal with what sounds like a negative and hostile work environment. You sound like a nice kid who expects adults to behave themselves. I guess it is a rude awakening to know that even fundamentally decent people can get into bad habits. Talking trash behind another’s back is essentially gossip and it can be hard to resist the little hit of pleasure it can provide. I personally have to resist gossip with every fiber of my being, but still succumb at times and then feel bad about it.

I wish I had pithy words for you, but frankly I think both your boss and his boss are unprofessional and immature and would not respond well to your feedback. In the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of your office, you could always drop a hint like “Hey, I am going to get some lunch—don’t talk trash about me while I am gone.”

On the other hand, you really don’t want to be stooping to the middle-school behavior of your supposed betters.

One option is to take your newfound valuable experience and go search out a better work environment. Of course, they will both say terrible things about you when you are gone, but who cares?

Another option is to just roll with it. It seems to fit with the good-old-boy-type culture of the office and probably doesn’t mean anything. You can just observe, let it roll off your back, and remember it when you think about the culture you want to have in in your next job and the culture you want to create when you are the boss.

Keep in mind that bad boss behavior is often as instructive as good boss behavior. You can take the opportunity to notice the urge to gossip in yourself and practice rising above it. Don’t join in. Don’t say anything at all unless it is to defend the person who is not there. Be the model for the behavior you would like to see in your bosses.

Honestly. It makes you wonder where the grownups are, doesn’t it?

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!


About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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