You’ve heard the whispers, caught the sly glances cast your way, felt the cool brushoff from co-workers and people you thought were your friends. No matter how connected and well-liked you think you are, you’re not immune to being the target of gossip.
While it can seem harmless, gossip can also ruin your career, seriously damage relationships and crush your self-esteem. So, it’s never something to take lightly. How do you deal with insidious office gossip? Here are some suggestions.
Don’t Repeat It
You can’t stop other people from spreading gossip, but you can stop yourself from repeating it. This means you don’t repeat it in any form whatsoever, not in person, over the phone, in an email or text or any kind of written communication. Repeating gossip reinforces what may very well be bad information, lending credence or some air of authority to baseless, harmful words.
Never Encourage It
When you ask for more details, nod in agreement, look interested and keep the conversation going with the gossiper, that’s just giving the person the green light to keep spreading such tales. Even if the tidbit might give you some kind of leverage over the person gossiped about, it’s very bad form to be part of this tangle of negativity by subtly or overtly encouraging the gossip to continue.
Change the Subject
Suppose you have coffee with some co-workers before heading into work or dashing off to your desk. In the middle of exchanging pleasantries, talking about the great game your child had yesterday, making plans for lunch or after work, one of your co-workers says with a hushed voice, “Did you hear that Marsha (your boss) is having an affair with Dave (her boss)?”
Instead of immediately requesting details, the best course of action here is to change the subject. Tell your gossiping co-worker that you have to go, you’ve got a project that’s due, you forgot something in your car, or something else. Without an audience, the gossiper will have no one to dish to. And you’ve helped possibly halt the transmission of office gossip – at least with you and for now.
Don’t Make Time for It
It’s not always non-stop work at the office. There are periods of downtime as well. It could be during a coffee break or lunch or walking from one meeting to the next, in the car on the way to an office function or on the phone chatting when you have a minute. It’s during such times that gossip can be inserted as a way to shake things up, keep work interesting or attempt to garner support for someone with an ulterior motive.
You, however, have the power to not be a part of this. All you need to do is not make time for it. When you refuse to participate, the gossiper can’t draw you in. Use whatever statement or action works best for you, but just don’t allow yourself to be swept up in the gossip.
Don’t Confuse Gossip with News – It Isn’t
Most gossipers have a great lead, as if what they’re about to say carries the importance and timeliness of news. You’ll know fairly quickly if what comes after the headline – or even the headline itself – is legitimate news or something else, like gossip.
While the person spreading the gossip wants you to believe and join in the gossip trail, you know instinctively that this is not good for anyone. It won’t help you in your dealings at work, won’t elevate you in the eyes of others (who trusts a gossiper, anyway?), and may very well come back to bite you.
Again, use your most effective tactics here to get away from the gossiper, but never confuse gossip with real news.
Think How You’d Feel
If you want to know the effects of gossip, put yourself in the shoes of the person being gossiped about. Think how you’d feel if everyone was saying these awful things about you. That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing that others are spreading gossip about you? Multiply that by 10 and it won’t even come close to the damage insidious office gossip can create.
Watch What You Say
If you start a conversation with “You can’t tell anyone…”, it’s almost guaranteed they will as soon as they’re out of your sight. For this reason, watch what you say to others. Before you say anything, think about why you’re saying it, what purpose your words have and what the effect may be on whoever hears them.
Will your comments be taken as literal, fact, rumor or innuendo? Is this something that you really need to say? Suppose you are behind on a project and need help to get it in on time. Ask for help, but don’t blame your shortcomings on someone else on your team, sabotaging them behind their back. Rally those whom you know you can count on, especially people whom you’ve helped in similar circumstances.
Confront the Gossiper One-on-One
When you’ve heard negative office gossip and especially if you are in a position of authority, the best way to stop it in its tracks is to confront the gossiper directly. Do so in a private location where no one else will hear the discussion – and seek to spread even more gossip about the goings on.
Let the gossiper know that what he or she is doing is harmful to others, and can result in disciplinary action or other negative consequences. While the gossiper may have thought their actions harmless, reminding them that gossip is anything but may be enough to quell it.
Model the Best Behavior
If you’re the boss, the leader of a team, or just one of the employees who contributes to the overall company’s success, you can make a difference when it comes to dealing with office gossip. How you do this is to model the kind of behavior that’s proactive, positive and uplifting.
This is called leading by example and is something that every employee can do. By showing through your words and actions at all times what is acceptable behavior, you will be serving as a role model for others.
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