Would you have answered this question about someone else's business?

I have an acquaintance, “Marcia,” with whom I am friendly but not intimate. I’ve known her about 14 years, since I was in retail. First we were co-workers on the same level; then, when I was promoted, she was one of my direct reports. Eventually I left retail for banking; she did likewise, for the same bank but not the same branch. I’ve twice written her letters of recommendation for jobs she has applied for (and gotten).

My father and one of my older sisters belong to the same church as Marcia. They are both actually friends with her in a way I am not; that is, my interactions with Marcia are always in by chance (e.g., running into one another at the mall) or in professional contexts, whereas they see her socially (e.g., shared lunches, being in the same wedding, et cetera).

Marcia & I no longer work for the same company. A while ago she came to me for advice about her job, which she felt she was in danger of losing. She told me her story in detail, and I agreed that the way things were going, she was likely to lose the job for mostly-but-not-entirely bullshit reasons. Marcia did not specifically ask me to keep the conversation in confidence, but I felt it was implied; cerrtainly, if our situations had been reversed, I would have asked her to keep quiet about it.

Marcia eventually did lose her job. Not long after this I was at my father’s house while my sister was there, and they mentioned that; I already knew (as I had already written Marcia another letter of recommendation). My father asked me if I knew what had happened, and I refused to answer; it felt like gossiping. This irritated both him and my sister, who denied that they were looking for gossip.

Did I do the right thing in declining to answer their questions?

I do think you were right to not gossip, however it seems to me that you could have placated them with something such as, “I’ll bet Marcia would prefer to tell you herself, it’s complicated and I don’t want to get it wrong/not entirely sure I understand”.

Might have been a better choice, your response puts them on the defensive as ‘gossipers’.

Yes you did the right thing.

Baring some scenario like she was likely fired for stealing money and now she’s trying to become your relatives financial constultant/CPA/accountant, why the frell is it anyone elses business?

Gossip IS what they were looking for.

Good for you for standing your ground.

This. I have often said things like “I’m sure Marcia would prefer to tell the story in her own way,” said with a slight smile. If pushed, I will flat out say, “Sorry, it’s not my story to tell,” firmly, and then I won’t answer any questions about it.

But knowing your dad from your stories, probably nothing would have sufficed.


When your father brought it up, you should have acted surprised at the news. Then they have nothing to ask you about, and get to think they knew something you didn’t.

You are, of course, correct. I brought it on myself by reacting to the news; my sister gave an INACCURATE reason why Marcia had lost her job, and I said, “No, that’s not it.” Should’ve mentioned that in the OP.

While that added info doesn’t change the fact that you were correct in not telling them what you knew, it does give your father & sister a pass on being irritated. It smacks of “I’ve got a secret I won’t tell!”

Of course you did.


And this. You did open the door for the gossip, then slammed it shut in their faces (not gossipping was the right thing to do, but it put you in an awkward position). At that point you probably should have said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. This is Marcia’s business, not mine.”

You did the right thing in not discussing the situation. They caught you by surprise and you were not too smooth with your refusal. You could have simply said, “I don’t have anything I can add to that.” You would have told the truth and moved the conversation without disrespecting anyone. I hope you did not use the word gossip in your refusal as that would not have been a smooth move either. No matter how you handled it, you can’t betray a trust so let the chips fall where they may. Best thing to do from this point is nothing.

I’m gonna buck the trend and say it probably would have been fine to tell the story. I say probably because, not knowing the details, I don’t know if something about the story would reflect poorly on your friend or embarrass her. In that case, you certainly would have been correct in keeping your mouth shut.

The other reason to keep silent is if the situation was still in progress, and the story getting out might somehow change the dynamics of the ultimate outcome.

But if those two reasons are reasons are not at issue, I think it would be fine to tell the story, in particular because she didn’t ask you to keep it confidential.

You could also choose an intermediate route and tell your family that you need to check with your friend about whether to talk about what you know.

BTW, is it “gossip” to talk about what you know directly from the horse’s mouth, as it were? I always took gossip to mean spreading rumors and stories that you received from other third parties – “a friend of a friend said…”

In Marcia’s place, I would not have wanted the details of this to be shared with all and sundry. I felt compelled to follow the Golden Rule here.

Mentioning gossip was definitely the mistake I made when talking to my father, even though I think it was quite accurate. A person’s right to privacy does not end merely because a story being told about her is true.

I was actually thinking of the literal definition of “gossip”, which I was too lazy to look up. According to Wiki, gossip as a verb originated with Shakespeare. But that page defines it as “idle talk”, which to me is even more fuzzy a term.

However, a few other definitions I’ve looked at don’t mention gossip as being related to the truthfulness or origin of the information. So my understanding of the term has been wrong all this time.

Yes but confidentiality often is automatically given :slight_smile:

From the Dick Van Dyke Show: