5 Ways To Avoid With Co-Workers Who Gossip

Posted by Patrick Enrile on

"Be careful, if someone will discuss others with you, they will certainly discuss you with others"

I read plenty of articles about how office gossip can be good for your career because it keeps you in the know and could even improve office productivity. According to the book entitled "Gossip: The Inside Scoop" authored by Northeastern University professor Dr. Jack Levin, says it can be good for our emotional health. However, he clearly delineates the toxic harmful type of gossip versus what he believes can be the type of gossip that ties together social and business networks. That said, even if there was NASA level backed research on this topic, I still believe office gossip can be one of the most challenging social pathways to navigate. In one recent study, the facts were somewhat alarming:

  • 21% regularly gossip at work
  • 15% occasionally gossip
  • 86% gossip regarding corporate challenges
  • Each gossip session averages 15 minutes

When employees spend hours per day together and vie for the same promotions and raises, competition it's inevitable. So there is a clear divide. Some people are adamant that office gossip is an essential part of the workplace and a necessary skill to advance your career and generally be liked by others while staying in the know. The flip side to the coin is that gossip is readily seen as needless and potentially a lethal part of office culture that kills morale and strains relationships.

 

In case you weren't clear on what constitutes gossip, here you go:

  • Rumors
  • False information
  • Failure to correct false information
  • Ridicule, belittling, and humiliation
  • Leaks of personal and confidential information
  • Failure to stop dissemination of unethical communication


Some people gossip because they enjoy it or they feel insecure about others in the workplace. Most gossipers are pure attention-seekers. A persistent and long-term gossiper must be stopped to avoid potential damage to others and the culture of a company. This article is solely focused on what you as an individual can do to protect both yourself and your career. Based on his research, here is an excellent list for you to reference to prevent your career and personal life from being damaged by rampant office gossip:

 

  1. Don’t participate. 
    Sounds pretty obvious but simply walking away from the story can prove to be your best answer. Don’t give visual clues that you are interested in listening and find a way to move on. If someone passes a juicy story on to you, don't pass it any further. Take personal responsibility to act with integrity and start moving.


  2. Say something positive. 
    It isn't nearly as much fun to spread negative news if it's spoiled by a complimentary phrase about the person being attacked. Rather than say negative things about your coworkers or the person mentioned, make it a point to say positive things and turn it around. By all accounts, you will derail the gossip and potentially change the course of the conversation. 


  3. Avoid the gossiper. 
    This is a no-brainer but as obvious as it may be to some, sometimes we forget we have the option to physically look to remove ourselves from situations (and people) that attract this type of behavior. It's difficult to control workplace gossip, but you can control your reaction to it. If you notice one person who consistently makes trouble, take the necessary actions to have as little interaction with that person as possible. Avoid him/her as much as possible. The best defense is a great offense. 


  4. Know what gossip is. 
    Friendly work banter and gossip are worlds apart. But how do you tell the difference? Consider the following:

    Discussion: A friendly work discussion that talks about others keeps the references to other people general, friendly and supportive. The speaker is not obsessed with picking holes in another person's character but is merely imparting information about what another person or people have done in a matter-of-fact way, to further an objective, work-related conversation and to enlighten the listener about work relevant information;

    Gossip: Gossip tends to be talk that gains attention for the speaker. The speaker will often adopt a confidential tone and is using the information about somebody else to be the center of attention and will impart the details in a way that tries to undermine the credibility or likability of another person. The details may be given with moralizing undertones and character assassination may be the top of the gossip's agenda. Often you are told more personal details than you care to know about. The motivations behind gossip include attention-seeking, self-inflation, exaggeration and a me-versus-them mentality;

    Grapevine gossip: This is gossip pertaining to general change occurring within a workplace. Someone started it and now it is running about like wildfire. Usually this happens in an uncertain environment and is fueled by fear, poor communications from management levels and wild guesses by staff. It is less personal than gossip attacking another person but is as equally damaging and demoralizing.

  5. Keep your private life private. 
    It's great to have genuinely close friends with whom you also work. You spend a good deal of time at work so it's natural for friendships to develop. It might be best if your coworkers know enough about you to be able to have a friendly conversation, but not so much that any information they have could hinder your advancement. Consider implementing a "work friends" privacy setting on your Facebook page if you'd like to friend your coworkers on social networks at least until you feel you have built up a level of trust.

Final thoughts:

Gossip is a solution stopper that harms people and can erode a culture while promoting a toxic workplace environment. It can increase conflict and decrease morale in addition to straining relationships while decreasing productivity. Gossip is the death of teamwork as it can create a divide that can sometimes require a senior level leader or manager to spend valuable time refereeing. Its also important to note:

If you are a listener, you are a co-narrator to the gossip.

In other words, the act of active listening actually supports and promotes
gossiping. The more you listen, the more you encourage it. If you don’t listen, the gossip has nowhere to go.


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