Eight Ways for Dealing with the Office Gossip
Is there one colleague at work who always seems to have the latest scoop on everybody? Someone who, for some inexplicable reason, seems to always know the details of what’s going on in people’s lives, from your supervisor’s divorce to your IT person’s failed application for a promotion?
Beware – you’re dealing with a dedicated office gossip. What’s more, a gossip needs an audience, so you’re dealing with an office culture that at the very minimum tolerates this person’s behaviour, but probably even encourages him or her.
Interestingly, tolerating and encouraging gossip are actually natural human reactions. According to Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., in her Psychology Today article “Why We Love to Gossip,” gossiping is a way for us to bond with others. But it’s also a way to isolate people whose behaviour is seen to be unsupportive of the group—whether or not this is true. In the worst cases, gossip can be hurtful and create a workplace atmosphere of antagonism and resentment.
If you’re serious about having a pleasant work environment and want to advance your career, you’re best advised not to talk about your colleagues behind their backs. Use the following strategies to deal with the office gossip.
- Understand the difference between valid information and gossip. A friendly co-worker is perfectly within his or her right to give you a bit of background about others—so long as it’s professional. “Our marketing person is unconventional but brilliant; some of her campaigns have even won awards,” is communicated with a different intent than, “Our marketing person? She’s good, sure, but who wouldn’t be if they worked 24/7? Between you and me, she doesn’t have much of a social life.”
- Nip it in the bud. An office gossip often makes up his or her mind whether or not you’re a receptive audience during your first meeting. As soon as what’s being said becomes unprofessional, simply say something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I really don’t feel comfortable talking about colleagues in this way.”
- Change the subject. Instead of letting the conversation continue in a gossipy vein, change the subject back to work-related matters or even something neutral like the weather.
- Confront bad-mouthing people. In the event someone’s spreading malicious gossip, for example that a colleague isn’t good at his job, tell him or her that it’s up to your supervisor to judge your colleague’s performance. Also, emphasize the fact that gossiping could really hurt someone’s career, and request politely that he or she stop spreading rumours.
If you yourself are the subject of office gossip, your workplace can become very uncomfortable. However, as Chana R. Schoenberger points out in her BBC Capital article “When office gossip is about you,” the best policy is to take up the issue directly with whoever is responsible. The following strategies will help.
- Don’t be antagonistic. Whether the gossip is being spread with malicious intent or not, being antagonistic isn’t likely to improve the situation. Instead, try using diplomacy or even humour to get your point across without getting into an argument.
- Turn it around. In the Wall Street Journal article “What to Do When You Are the Subject of Office Gossip,” Sue Shellenbarger advises addressing the matter seriously and then asking for the gossip’s help. You could say something like, “I know how much people enjoy talking to you, so perhaps you could inform them how matters really are.”
- Get colleagues on your side. If the person remains uncooperative, ask one or two colleagues to support you by either correcting any unsubstantiated rumours or asking the gossip to stop talking about you.
- Take it to your supervisor. If the office gossip simply refuses to stop and it’s affecting your enjoyment of your work, it’s time to make an appointment with your supervisor and request that he or she steps in.
Office gossip can be hurtful and, when you’re the subject, seriously affect your wellbeing and your performance. Keep the strategies above in mind so when you’re confronted with a gossipy co-worker, you know how to respond.