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The Office Tattletale: A Waste of Everyone's Time

In good, strong workplaces, tattling doesn't really happen. Successful teams of workers push each other to work hard and not goof around. Those co-workers have high expectations for one another.

"In great teams in the workplace, the co-worker goes to the person and talks with the person first," said Curt Coffman, global practice leader at the Gallup Organization. "One of my fundamental beliefs is that you have to stop talking about the person and take the talk-with-people approach."

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More often than not, someone who wants to spread the word that a co-worker sneaks out for a two-hour lunch every other Wednesday is only going to show a boss a personal conflict with the co-worker and an interest in getting ahead. What such workers are actually doing is wasting company time and breaking down morale.

"It's not really for betterment of an organization, but really because their feelings are hurt, they feel slighted, or have some need to hurt somebody else," said Kerry J. Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in the psychology of business.

The person may be telling a boss about an issue "out of deep-seated feeling of unfairness," Sulkowicz said. "It's like telling parents, 'You have to control this other person's behavior because it makes me feel bad.' "

And often, it's easy for a manager to see why a co-worker is spreading the word about another's misdeeds.

What that tattling tells a boss is, "I'm not a good co-worker or team player," Coffman said. "It's all about me."

Join Amy Joyce from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday at washingtonpost.com to discuss your life at work. Have a workplace issue you think would make for an interesting column? E-mail her at lifeatwork@washpost.com.

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