Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I have a work colleague we'll call J. We sit next to each other and have been friendly the entire time we worked together. She has told me about things in her personal life and I've shared the same type of stuff with her.

A couple days ago, J showed me something she'd re-blogged (some animated gif that we both thought was funny), and I happened to notice the URL of her blog. I looked up her blog and started reading it; I didn't think I was being out of line since she'd showed me the page already.

Then I found a very recent post where she made fun of me for starting a juice cleanse. I was hurt, but I was even more hurt to find that her followers were urging her on to create a blog devoted to my "ridiculousness." Apparently she posts about me on her blog a lot (12 posts in the past three weeks) and the things she writes are very unkind.

I'm at a loss as to what to do. I know that the best option is to let this go, back away from the "friendship" gracefully, and not read the blog again. But the extent to which she has posted about me is pretty startling. Worst of all, she's recently posted a conversation we had about our boss, who had to go home for medical reasons. J kept insisting it was because of prescription drug overdose, and I tried to stop the conversation by saying "I think it's a medical issue" (basically, saying it's private and using my tone to indicate I didn't want to talk about it). But now it's on this blog, and it looks like I was participating in gossip.

It's not difficult to find her blog at all, and based on personal information she shares, it's not difficult to identify her or the (small) company that we both work for. Aside from my own anger and hurt over what I've found, the things she posts about could be potentially embarrassing for our employer.

At a minimum, I'd really like her to take the post about our boss down, but I don't know how to broach this topic without blowing things up radically. It's possible, but not super likely, that I could have stumbled upon the blog through other means. Do you have any suggestions about how to tackle this diplomatically? Am I being unreasonably sensitive about things she posted in her personal blog (that was probably never meant for me to see)?

Green responds:

J sounds like a jerk.

I don't think you're being unreasonably sensitive. Your co-worker, who you thought you had a warm relationship with, is mocking you to strangers, repeatedly. That's horrible.

I'd say something like this her: "This is awkward to bring up, but I read some of the blog posts you've written about me and others in the office, like the one about my cleanse. I was pretty taken aback--I didn't realize that you felt like that, and I felt pretty awful seeing the things your followers were saying."

Then stop and see what she says. If she has any sense at all, she's going to be mortified. She might tell you that she just does it to blow off steam, or that she doesn't really mean what she posts there. To anything like that, or any kind of defensiveness, I'd just respond, "Well, it was pretty upsetting to see."

Because it was upsetting, and that's a reasonable reaction, and it's reasonable to tell her that so that she's face-to-face with the consequences of writing mean things about people online.

And if she asks you how you found it, just be straightforward: "You showed me something you'd re-blogged from it, and I was interested to read your writing."

There's a good chance that she's going to take all those posts down now after that conversation (or possibly make the blog private, if that's an option). It would take some serious gall to leave them up. But if she doesn't or if you don't want to wait and see if she does, it's reasonable to say, "I'd appreciate it if you'd remove those posts about me" and/or "I really think you should remove the post about the boss" and/or "I think the company would be concerned if they ever came across it, especially since it's not hard to identify who you work for." But that's really about saving her from herself, and you're not obligated to do that if you don't want to get into that level of discussion with her.

Also: This is going to be an uncomfortable conversation, but it's important to remember that she created the discomfort here, not you. The reason the conversation is going to be uncomfortable is because of her actions, not yours in addressing them.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Jul 8, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.