People Think You’re Having an Affair at Work?  Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have been part of a large team of great people for a few years. About a year ago we got a new boss.  He is a few years older than me and very smart and creative. We had an immediate connection because we went to the same school for undergraduate and are both huge fans of our school’s sports teams.  We became instant BFFs and have continued to get along great. 

The problem is that everybody thinks we are having an affair. I really don’t know how the rumor got started, but it didn’t occur to me to worry about it—it was just so nice to get along so well with the boss.  We are both married—he has two little kids—and it just isn’t the case. 

One of my pals on the team also told me there is a lot of gossip with people thinking I am getting special treatment, which isn’t true, either.

I am so bummed about this. I hate being judged for something I haven’t even done. How can I stop the gossip?

Unfairly Judged

Dear Unfairly Judged,

You can’t stop the gossip but you can wait it out.

You are just the entertainment du jour right now, and this too shall pass—unless you actually are having an emotional affair, in which case, you are going to need to make some changes.

Just because you are both married to other people doesn’t mean for one second that you couldn’t be having an affair.  It happens all the time.  And even if you aren’t having a physical affair, you may very well be having an emotional one. An emotional affair is when you click so well with someone that there is a level of intimacy that rivals or even eclipses what you have in your marriage.  I would challenge you to be brutally honest with yourself and tell the truth about whether or not you are flirting with this new BFF.

Ask yourself:  Do you go out of your way to spend time with your boss?  Do you think about him all the time? Do you spend time together without others around?  Do you spend time with each other outside of work?  Do you email or text constantly about non-work stuff?   If you are saying yes to any of this, you need to stop kidding yourself and get off the slippery slope.  Emotional affairs often slide into full affairs, and even when they don’t, they will impact how your boss treats you as well as both marriages.

If that is what is happening here, I highly recommend that you cut it out.  Discuss it with your boss.  Come clean with your husband and discuss what needs are being met in the BFF relationship that could be met in your marriage.  Talk to your best friends; they will also help you to get your feet back on the ground.  The more light you shine on this, the more quickly it will fade.

If the answer is no, and you are truly just friends and co-workers, great.  Take very good care and start managing the heck out of appearances, because they matter. Pay attention to the way the two of you behave, through the eyes of the others, when you are together. This will also give you much needed intel.

Do not communicate electronically about anything that is not work related.  I would even say to back off the sports talk except when you happen to see each other.  Do not—ever—be in the same room together alone unless you are visible to others—a glass conference room, for example.  Don’t ever talk about your friendship with others at work. Just pay attention, don’t give the gossips any fodder for the flames, and the whole thing will die down as soon as the next rumor comes along.

You may be getting stuck on how unfair that is.  It is unfair, but you have to remember that being good friends with the boss raises your status in the eyes of your co-workers, which makes them feel jealous and threatened.  “We are adults,” you might be thinking, “that is ridiculous!” Well, yes—and social neuroscience research shows that when it comes to status and fairness, our brains don’t know how old we are. They simply react as if we were all four years old and the kid sitting next us got a bigger piece of birthday cake.  So don’t blame your co-workers for being human. Their behavior is utterly predictable.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

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!

4 thoughts on “People Think You’re Having an Affair at Work?  Ask Madeleine

  1. Hi Madeleine, I always enjoy your Saturday posts. The emotional affair wasn’t even on my radar. Whether the person writing the question is at that point or not, the topic is important.

    We think about relationships at work a lot. Boundaries to protect marriages are still important. It’s so easy to see physical boundaries. But, emotional boundaries are another story.

    I found that being open with my wife about work relationships was important. Transparency seems important. Secrets seem dangerous.

  2. Hi Dan @leadershipfreak, thank you so much for the kind words. I love this part of my job, and it sparks a lot of great conversations and learning for me! I agree completely that secrets can be dangerous, especially the ones we keep from ourselves.

  3. Pingback: “People Think You’re Having an Affair at Work?” Ask Madeleine Top Questions of 2019 | HCL

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