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?
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I agree that encouraging positive conversation is a good way to handle office gossip. From my experience, office gossip is really inevitable. It’s not really harmful most of the time. But if it reaches that point, I think it’s best to ignore it. Well, if it negatively affects your performance, then maybe you can discuss it with the people involved. I think that there will always be people who will try to make fake stories about someone, especially if that someone is climbing up the career ladder.
I agree with you. Gossip is something that will always be there and it’s hard to eliminate. The best thing we could do is to keep it from harming our lives and work productivity.
Something you can do is change the coversacion immediately tell when someone comes to gossip, or avoid, where possible who have a reputation for gossip, I totally agree with the three councils,
must analyze the motives of the people, and never keep saying something that we’re not sure, let alone if it is up to us, because it is very ugly name be gossip.
I completely agree with you! When it comes to negative gossip, I believe that the conversation must be immediately changed. We should also never try to talk about something that we’re not sure off, speculation, especially negative ones could lead to an unhappy situation at times.
Thanks for these helpful tips. I particularly liked how you did not automatically discount gossip as harmful to the workplace, but I do agree that certain news bits are better left uncirculated within the office.
Your welcome Estella! Glad to see that the advice will be of help to you in your office life.
Great piece and very relevant in today’s workplace. You make some good points here, but one of the downsides of gossip, and what makes it so damaging and devastating, is that those who spread it often remain anonymous.
There’s a quote that says, “intelligent people talk about ideas, where the not so bright discuss other people.” I think this expression has great merit.
Hi! Thank you for reading my piece! You brought up a good point there. Great quote by the way and I have to agree with it. I think the best way to act in those kind of situations is to act intelligent and live a life that contrasts the gossip.
This is exactly why I’ve been focusing on trying to move from my day job to just focusing on freelance/moonlighting.
I’ve always wondered if gossips have lower IQ’s than normal people. In my experience, they seem to be slower learners and not as productive on average. Why hasn’t any graduate student done a study on this? I am seriously considering changing careers and going back to school to get a graduate degree in psychology just for the sole purpose of doing this exact study and publishing it for the world to see.
Those who gossip clearly have too much tIme on their hands…now get back to work!
I have a co-worker with whom I am friends. She works in the office; I work out of the office. Oftentimes the conversation involves the co-worker talking maliciously about co-workers as well as their significant others. For the new year I told my friend I was going to focus on being positive and avoid negative conversations. Unfortunately, she didn’t take that as her cue. At one point she was going on and on and on about a particular person, and she got “annoyed” with me because I said it was that person’s personal business and wouldn’t participate in the conversation. Then I didn’t hear from her in about five days (whereas before she would call me an average of four times a day). Normally good riddance would be fine; however, this coworker is in a position to make my work life difficult. Any suggestions on what to say and how to handle it when it happens in the future? Talking with the superior does no good; the boss is aware and would rather ignore it than deal with it.