How To Handle an Office Gossip
Unless you’re the sole mechanic in an automated factory full of robots, chances are that your co-workers are human. As such, they probably embody a wide spectrum of humanity’s best and worst traits, including the tendency to gossip.
While it’s occasionally fun to get the inside track on why that intern appeared and disappeared so quickly or what Peggy in Accounts Payable is doing about the fact that her ex-boyfriend is now dating Susan in Accounts Receivable, office gossip can be dangerous.
Before you get sucked in, establish some personal guidelines for dealing with the purveyor of your office dirt. You’ll be a happier worker and avoid doing real damage to your career.
5 Ways To Handle the Office Gossip
1. Understand that gossip isn’t harmless.
Of course, you wouldn’t like it if people were talking about you behind your back, but when it comes to the damage office gossip can do, the first person to think about is yourself. If you get a reputation for being someone who participates in rumor mongering, you might find yourself bumped off the list of people to promote.
Then there’s the fact that negativity is contagious, and the cycle of gossiping is hard to break. Anyone who’s ever felt bad after talking smack about a colleague or a friend can attest to the fact that spreading bad vibes comes with its own special type of psychic hangover. Protect your emotional health and abstain.
2. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t print out and hang above your desk.
But what if you enjoy the occasional gabfest at someone else’s expense? After all, if no one ever finds out what you said, there’s really no damage done, right?
Wrong. Why? Because anyone who’ll say mean things behind someone else’s back will do the same thing to you – and if you’ve participated in gossiping, you’ve just provided them with some quotes to substantiate their claims that you hate Co-worker X or you’re jealous of Co-worker Y. Don’t give them ammo.
3. Change the subject.
OK, so you’ve decided not to get involved, but the office gossip is determined to drag you in against your will. How can you gracefully disengage, without making them feel judged and alienating a potential ally?
Talk about something else. Anything else. Your shared interest in the local sports franchise will do, as will anything unrelated to politics or religion (verboten office topics). You could even get crazy and ask them about actual work.
4. Avoid the office gossip altogether.
If that doesn’t work, your best bet may be to try to spend as little time with this person as possible. If you don’t work directly together, make note of when they’re in the lunchroom, and rearrange your schedule; if you’re on the same team, try to stick to work topics only and dodge them at the company picnic.
If you’re unlucky enough to share a workspace with this person, and there’s really no escape, find ways to minimize your opportunity for chatter. Headphones work well for this, as does putting up your away message on interoffice chat programs. (Just remember to make your message reflect your availability for work-related discussion, so you don’t irritate the boss.)
5. Know when to lend an ear – but be careful.
Of course, sometimes it pays to know what’s going on at the office, beneath the official story put out by the powers that be. If you’re worried that a layoff might be forthcoming, or that major changes are coming to the company or your division, lending a cautious ear can be useful.
Just remember to take what you hear with a grain of salt. If the office gossip were in charge, he or she wouldn’t have to spread the word in whispers or sneaky messages. Assume that whatever you hear is only some of the truth.
And whatever you do, don’t pay for the scuttlebutt in kind. Remember that anything you say can be used against you, in the court of public opinion.