What To Do When Someone’s Badmouthing You


“No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” – Bertrand Russell

A consultant for AGP told one of its publishers, “If I were MMF’s partner and he did that with my company, I’d take him out to the woodshed.”

He didn’t say it directly to me — and I guess that’s why it surprised me to hear it through the grapevine. This is a guy who seems to like me very much and says nothing but good things to my face. In fact, I wouldn’t have believed the story except for the fact that I know he sometimes says things on the spur of the moment — so maybe he did.

So … what am I going to do about it? Nothing.

Here’s why.

My relationship with this guy is primarily a business one. I like him well enough — and I believe he likes me — but we are not so close in friendship that I feel the need to talk to him about this. The next time I see him, we’ll get along fine — so why muck things up with a confrontation about personal stuff?

Since our primary relationship is business, my interest in the reported conversation is this: Is such a comment likely to damage my interest in the business? The answer to that is a definite “no.” The person to whom he made the comment is intelligent enough to assess the situation on her own, and both I and my partner are OK about the issue at hand. So there is really no reason to stir up any dust over it.

But there’s another point, maybe a more important one. People say all kinds of things. When you are a powerful person, you can expect a lot to be said about you. Much of what’s said “behind the back” can be attributed to bravado or just plain foolishness. Some of it is completely legitimate — criticism that, though justified, won’t be said except behind the back. Some results from a mixture of good and bad intentions, smart and dumb thinking. I’ve said plenty of stupid things about colleagues myself, things I certainly didn’t mean and would hate to have leaked out.

This guy has demonstrated that he sometimes speaks rashly. So far, from what I’ve seen, it’s a minor defect compared to the many positive qualities he brings to the business. Lesson: Don’t spend your valuable time and energy worrying too much about what people say about you behind your back.

And don’t try to settle such problems unless they are really disturbing business. Keep your attention focused on selling product and making money — and let the personal stuff go away on its own.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]