So the office gossiper approaches you, saying that she’s got the latest scoop on one of your co-workers. Do you sit down and listen eagerly, or do you walk away, proudly proclaiming that you don’t participate in office gossip of any kind?
Let’s admit it. We all participate in gossip at least once in a while in our lives. After all, it’s not always easy to resist a piece of new information about another person. Humans are naturally curious beings, most especially about each other.
Despite its bad reputation, gossip—the light talk about other people’s personal affairs—has helped humans learn more about each. It has proven to be useful as well. If you’re an art-lover, hearing that your new neighbor “was in the art gallery last week” could help you start a new and meaningful friendship.
3 Ways to Handle Office Gossip
Gossip has also been useful in the workplace. There are managers who learn how hard their employees work through gossip, like how: “Mike has been volunteering in a lot of projects lately.”
Astute workers also use gossip to their advantage. For example, learning that your colleague is going on a month-long leave will give you the opportunity to immediately volunteer to help out with any of you co-worker’s projects while they’re away, making you look good in front of your boss.
Yet as we know, not all gossip is good. Malicious gossip like: “I can’t believe that suck-up Dan got the promotion” can decrease workplace productivity and breed resentment. This is even worse when false rumors meant to bring others down are spread.
Peter Morris, author of The Dysfunctional Workplace says that this kind of negative gossip and slander does not just bring one person down. The negativity in the workplace environment fills it with tension, making it bad for everyone. If the office atmosphere is edgy, small problems are blown up and of employees become anxious and tense.
A decrease in productivity is inevitable. Who would could work properly in a backbiting and stressful environment like this?
These being said, how can you as an employee keep gossip from reaching a harmful level? Here are some tips:
1. Analyze the Gossip
When your colleague comes to you with some new gossip to tell, try answering the following questions:
- What are his or her motives for telling me this?
So Marie’s saying that Laney, the project head, hasn’t been putting a lot of effort in the assignment. Yet hasn’t Marie been always jealous of Laney’s fast advancement? Could she be just doing this because she wants to create an opportunity for herself?
Also, don’t forget to ask this question when you’re the one faced with a piece of interesting information which you want to share. Why do you want this information to be known? Is it because you’re happy or concerned for a colleague, or just jealous of him or her?
If your answer is the latter, be reasonable and try to consider the negative effects which spreading this might cause, and if you feel like you really have to tell it to someone, try saying it to your cat or your pillow.
- Does this news have any basis?
This question is especially important if you’re a manager or supervisor. If you’ve been hearing something negative about a team member’s work habits, it’s always good to check the facts by asking more neutral parties or the person directly involved, before action can be taken to correct any problem.
The important thing to remember is that it’s never good to cause any false speculation or slander. Dishonest news will only create negative outcomes such as resentment.
2. Encourage Positive Conversation
Just like Morris says, everyone would prefer to work in a healthy and positive environment than in a tense, backstabbing one. Try becoming role models in the promotion of good conversation, especially if you’re the team leader.
Attempt starting well-intentioned conversations meant to support each other like: “George has been pretty out of it ever since his grandfather died. Let’s help him get back on track.”
If you hear anyone starting gossip that you know is just malicious talk and slander, stop it immediately. You can say something like: “I don’t think James is a lazy drunkard like you’ve been saying. In fact, I’ve seen him working a lot of overtime lately.”
If the mean talk continues, Morris advises that the issue should be brought up in meeting. Talk about how the nasty gossip and slander has been negatively affecting everyone’s work. You might be surprised to see other colleagues thinking the same way as you do.
3. Act Immediately
First, clarify things with anyone involved. For example, if someone has been spreading the rumor that you’ve been taking credit for Ted’s work, talk things out with Ted and make sure that he knows that the rumors aren’t true. Not only will you clear things up with him, you’d also get someone to back you up.
Next, talk to the person who has been spreading the mean gossip about you. Try to discover and solve the source of animosity. Clear any misunderstandings and resentment. Be calm and patient during the conversation. Acting immature will only turn the situation even more against you.
Lastly, show how untrue the office gossip is by acting in a way that contrasts the chatter. By continuing to live life the way you’ve always had, you’d quell any talk false talk against you.
How do you handle office gossip? Got any tips?
Photo by Taylor Dawn Fortune
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