Do you know a Tattletale?

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with TodaysManager

Whispers“You may think that you shouldn’t have to worry about a forty year old man or a fifty five year old woman doing something so childish.  You would think they would have had plenty of years to grow up.  Well I regretfully inform you that most people haven’t.”

How a Deal with a Tattle-Tale asks . He introduces the topic in the context of “office politics” and offers a few suggestions as to how a leader must recognise a snitch and the best ways to avoid a breakdown of trust between colleagues by discouraging this type of behaviour from the get-go.

This made me consider a different type of tattletale. The one that doesn’t lurk passive-aggressively in your workplace, but rather someone who calls themselves your friend.

It is a tough one. We often talk to our friends about the goings-on in our lives. Sometimes we will share the details of a conversation with another mutual friend or acquaintance because something had been said that perhaps irked us, and we want advice on what to do about it. So far, so good.

However, we all have a friend or two for whom casual gossip about other mutual acquaintances or friends is the meat of all exchanges. It seems that it is their vocation in life to keep you informed in the greatest detail about what others say about you — usually nothing you would actually want to know about. What is more, since they have sworn you to secrecy in advance, there is no way for you to verify the truth of the report without breaking your word.

I had such a friend. Past tense. Call her Lira. I kept her confidence and made excuses for the things she imparted. I didn’t want to believe them to be outright lies, but I didn’t believe that the friends she snitched on could have actually said those things about me. It was all a misunderstanding, I used to think.

It all came to a head when a mutual friend asked whether I had only befriended them out of pity. That’s what Lira told them that I’d confided. Like me, they couldn’t believe that she would lie about something like that, but it didn’t sound like something I’d ever say either. It made me realise that Lira’s strategy had been one of “divide and conquer.” It all began with tattletales, but when these were short in supply, she decided to invent her own.

Since my experience with Lira, I am suspicious of anyone who comes to me with tattletales. It may be unfair. It may be the case that they are actually telling me the truth about someone else being a hypocrite, saying something to my face and something else behind my back. But I do wonder… what purpose does it serve? What am I supposed to do with that information? If I confront the offender on the basis of what I was told, then the tattletale will be revealed as being exactly that. If I’m not expected to act on it, then why are they telling me this in the first place. What are they are after?

What do you do when a friend tattletales?

I have to admit that I’ve never called a friend out on it. Perhaps next time it happens, I’ll follow Cranston’s advice and say: “So you’re telling me that person had the nerve to say all of those things?” and after waiting for the well-meaning friend to answer in the affirmative, I’ll go: “And you did nothing about it?!” Yep. Sounds like a good plan to me.


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22 thoughts on “Do you know a Tattletale?

  1. I’d never really thought about it that way, but I can relate to the kind of person you mean. From what I’ve noticed, most complex multiple friendships have a level of tale telling and usually it’s to avoid causing direct offence, keeping things going without too much conflict… But some people just can’t help themselves. 🙂

    • Thank you, Nicola. I think many of us has come across a gossip who crosses the line at least once. And I agree with you that multiple friendships are exactly the ones to encounter these kinds of problems. One-to-one relationships at least are easier in this respect. 🙂

  2. When I was less mature, and this happened to me, I would trust “my friend” and be angry at that person. (Who was probably innocent). Now that I have matured and know manipulation tactics, I will politely listen to my “friend,” and continuing being nice/friends with the person who was suppose to have said/done something. That always puts the lid on it.

    • It is perhaps the most tactful approach. As long as there is no seed of doubt implanted 🙂 In a way, the problem with Chinese whispers is that you can never necessarily find out the truth, because even if you confront the other person about what they supposedly said, there is no guarantee that they would be truthful about it either, so in the end your strategy is best: Ignore all second-hand information and make up your own mine – I rather like that – thank you.

  3. I HAD a friend I would tell things to in confidence, and when we were in public or among a large group of people, she would break my confidence. I suppose that would be a tattletale but not behind my back. Her sole purpose was to make me look bad, and elevate her narcissistic self. She would also do as you were discussing–she pitted me against other mutual friends. Now I wonder how much of what she told me was truth. Meh, she is out of my life, and for that, I am happy.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, April. It sounds like you had a similar experience to mine. That was one malicious friend.
      Yes, in the end it is for the best when people like these are out of our lives. Cutting that person out of my life was not easy, because I was very fond of her, but it was done and it was for the best.
      This reminds me of someone else in my life who broke my confidence, but only by mistake, because we were in a close nit group of friends and she assumed that I was comfortable sharing with everyone in the group. Luckily, when I explained that just because we are all friends it does not mean that I’m going to make my concerns public to all of them, she apologised and never broke my confidence again. In fact, any time I would tell her something she asked whether I had told the others as well, or whether it was something just between us.
      Warm regards,

  4. Vic, I certainly thank you for the mention. Not only do I thank you for the honor but for the wise words about friendship you bestow. Everyone who has EVER had any type of friend has had one of these that you describe. They put us on the spot to take action but then try to tie our hands behind our back. You’re right. Its all manipulation. You’re very intelligent and I look forward to reading more words of wisdom.

    Have a great day,


    • Thank you, Cranston. The main reason I started the Let’s Talk Opinion series was to engage with other bloggers like yourself who write thought-provoking articles, and I always try to think through the proposed topic alongside them. I am pleased that you liked my take on the subject. And, yes, certainly it is a form of manipulation, and your advice in dealing with it can work on a personal level as well as in the context of the workplace, so thank you.
      Wishing you a lovely weekend,

  5. They want to feel better by making you feel smaller, possibly. Or have some other ulterior motive.
    Peoples motives are often as varied as people are.

    Just stay away from people that “confide” such negative stories. Positive stories are rarely secrets afterall, hehe, and rarely is anyone hurt by such a positive ‘secret” leaking.

    • You are right, Kavalkade, there are as many motives as there are people. Some just like drama and try to create it by tattletelling. I’m sure that there are those who don’t mean any harm by it, and think that they are genuinely helping. Unfortunately, as you say, negative stories of this sort can’t do any good in the end, so best kept at bay. Thank you 🙂

    • Absolutely, navigator. She was a narcissist. I realised too late that what she was attempting to do, is make everyone think badly of one another and think well of her. She was a very persuasive liar, to the extent that I think she believed a lot of her own lies. In the end, after I discovered what she had been doing, and asked all of our mutual friends whether she’d been similarly “generous” to them in tell-tales about others, we discovered her deceit en-masse and were able to put a stop to it.
      Not much of a friend, certainly.

  6. It’s funny, the older I’ve got the more friends I have that only know a small number of my other friends. I suppose you could say my friendship circle has been atomised! I think it’s probably a function of having moved jobs quite frequently (within the same organisation for the most part, but it’s a bi one) and keeping in touch with a handful of people each time. That sometimes makes it awkward to have larger get-togethers, because it relies on people being prepared to mix with others they don’t know, but it does mean the tittle-tattle thing isn’t really an issue. I like the Cranston suggestion – let us know how you get on!

    • Thank you, yakinamac. I like this idea of atomised friendships. I suppose that is more the case for me now as well. I think I’ve come to prefer close one-to-one relationships to larger group interactions.
      Will let you know how I get on when it reoccurs, although I honestly hope that it doesn’t.

  7. Being a Professional Tattle-tail myself (with all the necessary papers from ‘The Big Snitch’ Union), I’m sure I see a propensity for the snitch cat, to feel they are unavailing a truth that’s being kept from their friend, and could being perhaps warning someone of aversions ahead.

    Gossip is a fabrication though! Wouldn’t the intended, non-suspecting friend begin to smell something fishy when these accusations don’t pan out as true? I have a friend that lies to me all the time. To stay friends, I call them ‘exaggerations’…

    • Exaggerations… yes, I do have friends who tend to exaggerate the truth, although usually about themselves rather than others. No harm done I suppose.
      I understand what you mean by unveiling the truth. When it’s a one off occurrence and coming from a friend I trust, I completely get that what they are trying to do is warn me against someone’s duplicity. I am weary of those who make it a habit though. Thank you for your comment, Spartacus. It made me consider this from a new angle.

  8. I am so careful what I say in the workplace now having been hurt badly and judged by something that was told to management that was supposedly something I said. Even the other day a colleague said to me, “I have learned that things come back you twisted beyond recognisable shape”. Scary isn’t it? Why do people do these things?
    More information coming by owl post 😉 lol

    • Good question, suzjones, why do people do these things?
      I presume, in an office environment at least, they do it in order to detract attention from their own failures.
      I suppose it is their way of getting management’s ear and ensuring that everyone else looks bad as a cover for their own ineptitude.

      In a former job there was one colleague who spent most of the time on e-bay, basically running a business, was very slack with work, but very quick to report if anyone turned up ten minutes late, or took an extra quarter of an hour for lunch.
      I had what my boss liked to call “an enlightened” view of work ha!
      This impression must have come after we debated a work-related issue and, frustrated that he couldn’t persuade me of his strategy however much he tried, he used the trump card and said that he had the last word because I worked for him.
      To which I replied: “Not so. We both work for the company. You may be higher in the hierarchy, but we are colleagues, and our opinions are of equal value.”
      Getting a reputation for having eccentric ideas wasn’t a bad thing, as I was able to always speak my mind. People knew where I stood on all matters and tattletales had little success in trying to skew things I said as a result.
      I’m sorry that you had a bad experience. Sometimes it is worth clarifying your own views directly to management, but of course, it all depends on circumstances. As Cranston said, management should discourage tattletales because they create an unhealthy working environment.
      Look forward to meeting your owl. Have a few goodies in store 😉

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