Too Much Information of the Wrong Kind
Q: I work within a group in our department where we have our own projects but all have the same job titles. We are responsible professionals, but we have a great company culture and are always friendly, considerate and helpful to each other when someone is swamped. We love our casual environment, and it's obvious to all our company is well-managed. Our manager trusts us to create our schedules and meet our deadlines to complete our work on time. This leaves us a bit of time each day to socialize with each other.
One of the members in our group is young and newly married, another is getting married, and the remaining five of us are single. We all get along despite our different lifestyles. We have one major question. During our social interfacing, the newly married member has shared some of her married experiences -- and they are not positive ones. We don't like to gossip, but we have talked among ourselves about whether she knows that her husband is emotionally abusive. We don't know if we should say something to her.
Because she is the youngest in the group, we think she may not know his behavior is wrong. She doesn't ask what we think about the behavior, but the fact that she tells us says that it is on her mind. We don't want to get together as a group (even though we all agree his behavior is abusive) and ambush her. Is it appropriate for one of us to say something privately? We also don't know if perhaps, one at a time, each of us casually tells her he is treating her poorly.
A: Your co-worker may be mentioning her husband's behavior, hoping for some type of feedback without forming it into a question. Everyone has different communication styles. Some people are direct communicators and not afraid to solicit others' opinions, while many others are obscure with the information they provide, sharing half-stories and waiting to see what the feedback will be. Because this newly married coworker is the youngest in your group, it is more likely she is hesitant to ask direct questions.
No one likes to admit their naivete when it comes to life experiences. Everyone must learn from someone, but mentioning her husband's negative behavior seems telling. Asking your direct opinion might seem too much like admitting she made a mistake in marrying this man, which could be a hard fact to face, especially since she is newly married. On the other hand, many women are unaware of what emotional abuse feels like, especially as it usually seeps in slowly.
It sounds like all of you care about her, so discussing her comments among your group sounds like concern, not gossip. Abuse is a tough topic to address, assuming none of you is a counselor or psychologist working in the field of partner abuse. If all of you decide to address it, choose the most sensitive and empathetic member of your group to speak to her privately outside the office.
Before talking to her, read expert articles on partner abuse. Then you can introduce the topic to her by asking if she had mentioned the experiences because she questions his behavior. Then let her take the lead. If she responds defensively, politely back out of the conversation, letting her know you're open to anything she wants to discuss at any time. At least she knows you consider her comments serious enough to address the situation.
You might feel awkward if she quickly dismisses her initial comments about him, but don't be surprised if she brings up the subject at a later date. All of you have to work together, so you don't want any awkwardness. Her other choice is to never mention similar incidents again to the office group.
Email career and life coach: Lindsey@LindseyNovak.com. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/features/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.