You’ve heard it constantly at the lunch table. Who is being tapped for the big promotion and who is jealous about it? Who is having an affair with their administrative assistant? Who is going through a bitter divorce? Who is a former drug addict? And so on …
Gossip and backbiting can be the fruits of an unhealthy workplace. There’s no place for it in a professional environment. The question is: What to do about it? Here are five tips for avoiding and dealing with gossip in the workplace:
Notice when gossip happens and how it affects you. There’s a difference between gossip and venting to a trusted colleague or a mentor, but often the lines can get murky if one is not careful. Gossip is hurtful conversation aimed at another colleague in order to damage them in some way. What is your intention when you grumble or make a complaint? Do you have the good of the company in mind or are you just trying to damage another’s reputation? Checking your own tendencies is a good place to start. And if you find you are the source of office gossip, then make a change in your behavior.
Notice where gossip happens and avoid participation. Have you noticed that when others gossip, you get pulled into their drama? Noticing this tendency is the first step to stopping the behavior for yourself. You don’t need to stop, say, eating lunch with the gossipy people, but you should stop from participating in their gossip. Remember, you can only control what you do and bear no responsibility for the choice others make to gossip. That said, you can point out that that behavior makes you uncomfortable and you would like it to stop, giving others the freedom to respond to your request.
When rumors start, stop them. Don’t let rumors become the main source of information gathering in your workplace. When someone throws a rumor out, your question should be: “Where’s the proof of that?” If there is none, then you should say something like, “I think this is just a rumor, and we should dismiss it unless we get further proof.” Allowing rumors to spread is one way to let gossip run amuck through the workplace.
Engage supervisors when necessary. Nobody hates gossip more than a supervisor. If there are lies being spread through the company, especially ones that are affecting the performance of employees, then the company’s human resources department should know. They can work to diffuse the rumor mill and stop the sources of the gossip.
Be a balance of openness and decorum. There’s a fine line between being open and inappropriate self-disclosure. It’s one thing to ask people to pray for a sick parent, but it’s another to tell them that you had a wild night with Sue from accounting or that you’ve had a checkered past. People only need to know as much as you are comfortable telling them and you should certainly keep personal information confidential that is shared with you. If your boss told you who is getting the big promotion or that a major layoff is coming — keep it to yourself, including that you knew about it at all. Your boss trusted you for a reason and you need to honor her/his trust.
If you find over time that your office is just too gossipy for your standards, then consider what kind of company you are dedicating your efforts to and at least think about taking your talents elsewhere.