office gossip

How To Deal with Office Gossip

Gossip Didn’t End in High School

Remember when you finally graduated high school and were so excited to leave the drama behind? Goodbye, gossip! Goodbye, rumors! Goodbye, cliques!

Fast forward: You enter the corporate office. Suddenly, you feel like a teenager surrounded by instigators. But, this time, the stakes are higher because office gossip won’t just make you unpopular. Instead, it could cost you your job!

You never learned to deal with gossip in high school because you thought it would end on graduation day, but gossip can break down a work environment. So, let’s finally address this and discuss how to deal with office gossip by learning to shut it down and prevent it from happening again.

Tips on How to Shut Down Office Gossip

For Leaders

Don’t play the middleman –  When my little brother used to tattle on me for poking him, my mom didn’t say, “Sarah, stop poking your brother.” Instead, she told him, “Go tell Sarah to stop poking you.” Do you know what eventually happened? We stopped tattling and worked out our differences by ourselves. If your employee comes to you with a complaint about another employee, first validate their concern and listen. Then, coach the complainer to speak directly with the other employee. They are adults. They can handle it. 

Resolve conflict immediately – I’ve seen plenty of my coaching clients let conflicts go on for too long. Recently, one of my clients asked two of his feuding employees, “Are you two going to resolve this? Or do I have to sit you down and do it for you?” Although the employees agreed to sit down and resolve it independently, they never would have done it without their boss’ insistence. Don’t wait for the complainers to complain. Instead, call it out if you see an issue and insist they resolve it immediately.

For Employees

Question the underlying issue – Let’s say you work from home, but lately, your kid has been sick. You’ve been less responsive, so a frustrated colleague starts an office rumor that you’re slacking. When you overhear the rumor, you might feel defensive, but stop. Instead, squash the rumor by responding with compassion for the gossiper. Why? This takes the focus off of the rumor and puts it back on the original gossiper. You might say, “I understand their frustration, but their response seems bigger than warranted. I wonder what else they’re upset about that they’re not admitting?” 

Go to the source – Hearing rumors can feel distressing and uncomfortable. Own that. It’s ok. Process your negative emotions, find your center, and then confront the source of gossip directly. To make it easier, initiate the conversation with empathy to help them feel more receptive to hearing you. This sounds like, “I imagine you were frustrated when I missed the conference call yesterday. Can we talk openly about what happened and anything else that might be bothering you?”

Tips on How to Prevent Office Gossip

For Leaders

Model empathy, gratitude, and personal accountability – Your employees look to you as an example of how to deal with each other. Do you own your mistakes? Are you compassionate with employees when they make well-intentioned mistakes? Do you see the human behind the job description? Are you respectful of the personal values and private lives of your staff? Do you compliment your staff and voice genuine gratitude? Most importantly, do you gossip? Look in the mirror to ensure you’re not fanning the flames of office gossip, or worse – starting the fire yourself. 

Fire (or don’t hire) instigators and narcissists – Certain personality types cause problems wherever they go. Know the traits of instigators and narcissistic personalities, and familiarize yourself with the trail of toxicity they leave in their wake. If you see the signs, even if they are your star employee, let them go. Otherwise, these people will undermine the performance and culture of the rest of your company like a malignant tumor.

For Employees

Acknowledge wins – Acknowledging wins is absent in many teams. Instead, only mistakes are acknowledged in the hopes of eradicating all errors. This creates a pressure-cooker that feeds office gossip because frustrated employees fear repercussions and assign blame. But suppose employees collectively made a point to casually and formally acknowledge wins amongst each other? In that case, they could shift the pressure-cooker culture on their own and create a more fun and upbeat office environment. Celebrate the small victories! 

Give the benefit of the doubt – We all tell ourselves stories to explain the behavior of others. When we don’t know why someone is doing what they’re doing, we automatically imagine a reason. It makes us feel more secure if we think we know why people are behaving the way they do. But, the story you’re telling yourself is a construct of your imagination. So, if you’re going to imagine a reason for their behavior, you might as well make it positive, kind, and compassionate. In general, give others the benefit of the doubt, which is the antithesis of gossip. The more you model this response in your office, the less likely you’ll be to hear rumors.

Use a Rating System

Now that you know how to stop and prevent office gossip, you have to decide how much you actually care about the rumors at your workplace. Unfortunately, gossip is a part of life. It didn’t end in high school, and you can’t remove it altogether from the office. Gossip can be upsetting, but you also have to pick your battles. 

Take the quiz below to decide if this office gossip is worth your time and energy to stop it.

   1. Could this gossip realistically prevent you from new work opportunities? (ie. Promotions, raises, bonuses, etc.)

       Yes or no?

   2. Is it likely that this gossip could turn into an HR issue?

       Yes or no?

   3. Does this gossip make you feel emotionally unsafe at work? Like you’re being bullied or harassed?

       Yes or no?

   4. Do you feel scared of the repercussions if you speak up?

       Yes or no? 

   5. Is this gossip preventing you from making meaningful connections with your colleagues?

       Yes or no?

If you answer “yes” to most of the questions, use our tips above! But if those don’t work, you may be dealing with a particular type of personality that needs a unique approach. If you think that might be your situation, check out our article “How to Deal with a Narcissist at Work.”

Written by Sarah Hodges

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