How to Stay Cool When People Talk Smack Behind Your Back – Lessons from Olympian Gabby Douglas

It’s an office grapevine nightmare: your colleague tells you that So-and-So was talking to Big-Boss and said that you aren’t a “team player.” You know So-and-So is just trying to sabotage you and make you look bad, but you can’t go directly to Big Boss because your colleague doesn’t want to get in trouble for gossiping and doesn’t want to be in the middle. But it BURNS knowing that people are saying negative things about you and spreading lies!


It’s a predicament Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas faced this week.


In Rio, cameras caught Gabby looking less-than-enthusiastic watching her teammates compete in the individual events she didn’t qualify for. All over the world, people made assumptions that her sour face meant she wasn’t happy for her teammates, and the criticism grew. She was critiqued for not putting her hand over her heart during the Star Spangled Banner. The criticism mirrored Douglas’ previous Olympics trip, where some viewers disapproved of the state of her textured hair.


Douglas says she’s used to the critiques, as part of being in the public eye, but it hurts when people jump to negative conclusions and say hurtful things. How is she handling the ugly comments this time around? “It just determines your character,” she responds. “Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble?” What Douglas hasn’t done is try to defend herself to all the “haters.”


To successfully manage people talking negatively about you, take a page from Douglas’ book: respond carefully and judiciously. In the example above, make a positive, non-confrontational statement to the coworker who alerted you to the problem, but don’t say anything more than that. From there, let your actions do the talking for a while. Keep succeeding. Keep being a team player. During this time, do make sure Big Boss is aware of your work – you don’t want to over-compensate and give too much information, but you do want to make sure you weren’t delivering too little information about your workload and completed projects before.


Let your actions do the talking for a while. Keep succeeding.

Finally, to avoid active conflict in the workplace, don’t let Big Boss know that you heard someone talked smack about you, but at your next review, slip in a mention of something that directly refuses whatever the smack-talker said. Show that you’re a team player, or whatever negative thing So-and-So made up about you. Show, don’t tell, that So-and-So wasn’t right, and Big Boss will ultimately believe you instead of them. Act like a champion, like Douglas does, and all will be forgotten.


Confession: I was in this position very recently. A few weeks ago, a blog post of mine went viral overnight, and I was shocked by a handful of the comments. Because it was a short blog post, and because I want my blog posts to be more about you, the readers, than my own life, I hadn’t included every single detail of the story. For some people, the details and outcome of the personal part of the story were more interesting than the moral I was getting to, and they read the blog post thinking I acted like a jerk to my husband. Some people even suggested I was a terrible wife and my husband should divorce me. I’m not going to lie – that hurt.


I followed my own advice, pulled a Gabby Douglas, and responded judiciously to a few of the comments as gracefully as I could. I tried not to get defensive, just letting them know that I appreciated their concern but all was well in my marriage. Within hours after I did that, the furor died down and all has been well.


At your next review, slip in a mention of something that directly refuses whatever the smack-talker said

It’s human nature to want to defend ourselves when people attack us and say negative things. But when it comes to our work, handling ourselves like a champion means we ultimately succeed and come out on top.