I’m pretty sure I invented this system, which works in any sort of group setting whether it’s an office or a bowling team or even if you just have a big, creepy, passive-aggressive family.
The idea is that someone in your office has a big mouth, and you’re having trouble figuring out who it is. Someone is telling either everyone – or simply the wrong people – things that have been told to them in confidence. You don’t know who the rat is, but there are only a handful of possibilities.
Even if you don’t have it narrowed down, you can use this awesome system to narrow it down, and then use it again.
What you’re going to do is intentionally spread a rumor. Typically you would make this rumor up about yourself, but it could be about anything, as long as it’s truly perceived as something that shouldn’t be spread around.
You make something up – for example, you went out last night and you almost got arrested, and you don’t want anyone knowing about it.
But what you do is you tell the three or four people on your short list of Big Mouth Suspects, and you tell them separately. Each time you tell someone, you add a very specific key word detail.
So you tell Person A that you were nearly arrested and that you dropped the take-out container of turtle soup that you had with you from the restaurant.
Tell Person B nothing about turtle soup, but that you were with a buddy of yours who turned out to have a warrant out for his arrest for an expired dog license.
Tell Person C nothing about turtle soup or pals with expired dog licenses, and instead specify that you knew the cop from high school.
When someone is told a rumor, and is told that it’s a secret so You Didn’t Hear It From Me, a common thing to do is to try to elicit most of the details out of the person at the center of the rumor, so that it appears the person is telling them something they know very little about. That way they can speak freely about it, without busting out the person who told them.
So you simply wait for your Key Phrase to show up in the rumor mill.
Eventually person D will show up – that’s the individual one of your suspects has been blabbing to – and they probably won’t drop the key phrase on you, but they will be interested enough in your detail that they will ask leading questions, looking for it.
Person D: So, I heard you had a little trouble the other night.
Person D: No, I mean, it’s no big deal, but I heard about it. You were nearly arrested.
You: Nobody was supposed to hear about that, blah, blah, blah.
Person D: Were you with anybody?
Person D: Where were you, out to dinner?
Person D: How did you get out of it?
The questions will always leave a wide open hole for you to divulge the interesting detail. Person D might even go ahead and bark out the key phrase – “I heard about the turtle soup – where the hell you get that stuff, by the way?”
If you don’t have it narrowed down to a few people, then you would substitute people with departments. So you’d walk in and tell the Accounting department about the turtle soup, the sales guys about the high school pal, and the tech guys about the expired dog license.
Eventually Person D walks in with the information you need – and you have it narrowed down to one department. You start over a little later with a new story, new key phrases, and pretty soon you’ll have your culprit.
Once the culprit has been identified, there is no reason for any kind of confrontation at all. First of all, I don’t want to alarm you, but the use of such a system – and in particular referencing it in the course of bitching at a co-worker – is a good way to seem a little crazy.
Remember where you’re getting this from – don’t let this happen to you.
No, what you want to do then is begin feeding false information to this person, rumors designed to appear believable but to crumble under scrutiny, so that when he or she scampers up to drop the little bit of information in front of Person D, panting and wagging his or her tail and otherwise preparing to stick his or her nose up Person D’s butt, that rumor then collapses time and time again.
The Way-Too-Old-To-Be-A-Franking-Hall-Monitor culprit will then slowly over time go in the exact opposite direction he or she means to, with regards to favor in the eyes of Person D, and at a speed consistent with his or her flapping gums. Pretty soon, Person D will commence disregarding anything the newly-identified rat says.
The best part is, if you get caught you aren’t doing anything wrong. Nobody can possibly get mad at you.
The culprit can’t say, “What’s with you telling me false rumors in confidence? You made me look like an idiot when I shot off my mouth about the stuff you said to keep quiet?”
And Person D can’t really get mad at you, either. I’m not sure how Person D would articulate such a problem. Stop suckering me into giving up my mole? No more secrets unless they’re true?
Person D will probably never figure out you were doing it. Just keep acting baffled about the whole thing – remember, Person D thinks you’re an idiot or Person D wouldn’t be trying to trick you into verifying rumors about yourself.
Please feel free to enjoy my Key Work Rumor Tracking System. Use it for good, not evil.