Fury as Woman Overhears Colleagues Insulting Her for 10 Minutes Straight

A devastated woman has turned to Mumsnet for support after overhearing her male colleagues badmouthing her for more than 10 minutes.

Sharing her story with Mumsnet's Am I Being Unreasonable? (AIBU) forum on January 19, user WhaleTanker explained she had recently started a new job, and is the only woman in a team of six. She and her co-workers are all senior staff members, but each leads on different projects.

Upset office worker turned away from colleagues
A stock photo of an upset young office worker sitting at a conference table, with her face turned away from her colleagues. The poster heard her co-workers badmouthing her for 10 minutes straight. fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Recently, she heard her new colleagues talking about her—not realizing she was nearby.

"4 of the 6 leaders decided to have a very b***** and nasty conversation in an open space in the office about me," she wrote.

"I was just around the corner eating my late lunch. I heard every word. It was about 10 mins long," she added.

"I am so hurt to hear those things. My heart was beating so hard, I felt sick."

While she decided whether to make her presence known or sneak away, the group spotted WhaleTanker. However, they seem unaware that she heard everything.

Heartbroken and unsure what to do, WhaleTanker asked fellow Mumsnet users for advice, with the post receiving more than 300 comments.

How to Confront a Co-Worker That Has Been Badmouthing You

Whether it's insults or gossip, Crystal Britt—founder of Get Psyched Therapy & Coaching—told Newsweek that it is normal to feel hurt when a colleague talks about you behind your back. However, how you respond is important, because it can have an impact on your career.

"As the poster in this story is top management, the best way to handle it might be through HR—if any kind of acknowledgment of the situation on their end would feel like retaliation," Britt said.

"Person to person, I would try to find a way to bring it up and confront it without it feeling like a formal confrontation."

Under the right conditions, humor can help to de-escalate a tense situation and prevent the other party from becoming defensive.

"[Try] 'I know this is going to sound so silly, but I was actually in the room when you were talking about me the other day—do I really sound like that?'" Britt said.

"The most important part of the equation is that, if it bothers you, and will continue to affect the way you work and interact with employees, it warrants attention—your feelings are valid."

Depressed office worker crying into her hands
A stock photo of a depressed office worker with her head in her hands. Therapist Crystal Britt told Newsweek it's normal to be upset when a colleague badmouths you at work. tuaindeed/iStock/Getty Images Plus

'Are They Threatened By Having a Female in Their Midst?'

After overhearing the "awful" comments, WhaleTanker felt trapped and unsure how to move forward. "Had they done it privately, I wouldn't know about it," she wrote.

"I am not saying people can't talk about colleagues, obviously they can and do. Just that it should a) be more constructive/professional and b) shouldn't be in an open, public space where others can hear.

"Or do the adult thing and tell me to my face they have a problem so it can be addressed."

WhaleTanker explained that the comments were "just nasty stuff," and not based on a professional mistake the poster had made.

"If I confront them, it will be horrible and possibly make things worse," she wrote. "Not sure I have the strength to go through massive amounts of confrontation."

WhaleTanker is concerned that, if she says nothing, she will "carry on with festering resentment and hurt," but also she hates conflict.

"There are 2 leaders who were not part of this. I don't want to start getting 'sides' going. Do I somehow involve them? How?" she asked.

"HR is an option, but in the office structure, we the leaders are basically above them, so it would have to go to the HR person in central management. That will cause world war 3.

"This behaviour needs calling out, I know that. If I as a senior person can't call it out, how can the junior people be expected to speak up?"

Mumsnet users were furious on WhaleTanker's behalf, with minidancer commenting: "I'm so sorry this is happening to you."

"How horrible," agreed determinedtomakethiswork, while EVHead posted, "So unprofessional of them!"

"Are they threatened by having a female in their midst?" wrote unsync, while TheWitchesAreBackInTown commented, "What trashy behaviour."

As well as emotional support, Mumsnet users offered WhaleTanker practical guidance.

"The first thing to do is write an accurate record of exactly what happened, with names and precise quotes. This will be hard but important if you are to take it any further," wrote watchfulwishes.

"That's terrible. If that happened to me I would speak to my immediate manager about it. Even if they are not on site they have a duty of care to you and to support you," posted MajesticWhine.

"Are you in a Union?" asked StephanieSuperpowers. "They may be able to advise."

"I think I'd talk to them all individually," wrote AdamRyan. "Say what happened - it's awkward but you overheard their conversation and it was upsetting. And that if there was an issue you'd prefer them to raise it with you."

"Was it 4 males talking about you?" IJustDunno asked. "It's evidence of bullying/sexual discrimination etc. at work. If they are so unprofessional they'll do this in the open, what else are they doing and capable of?"

WhaleTanker isn't the only employee to share their work woes online. A woman was backed in October 2022 for reporting a colleague who hinted that she "wasn't cool" to HR. In December, a man was applauded by Reddit users for getting a "disabled female colleague" suspended.

Have you had a workplace dilemma? Let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.