Did You Hear? Three Surefire Steps to Minimize Gossip at the Office
It starts out innocently enough with someone in the break room saying, "Isn't
it a shame about Jack?" Clueless, you reply, "What about Jack?" "Don't you know
about his wife?" When you answer in the negative, your colleague seizes the
moment to fill you in on all the gory details of Jack's wife's ongoing affair
with none other than your boss's husband, and poor Jack is now in rehab because
he started binge-drinking to drown his misery. Of course, since your boss's
husband is the party of the second part, you just have to know if she knows
about her husband's infidelity, which would account for her showing up to work
lately looking like a subject in a sleep-deprivation study and biting everyone's
head off for no good reason. And before you've finished pouring your coffee,
you've enabled a gossip to perpetuate the vicious cycle of rumor mongering that
too often contaminates a workplace.
The consequences of participating in office gossip are far ranging and always
affect at least two or more people. First, consider the person who is the gossip
spreader. Why is this person presenting the information? Can any good come from
it? Will the information benefit you or the office in which you work? What's in
it for the gossip?
If the answers to these questions are fuzzy, you can probably assume the news
bearer is reveling in knowing something others don't yet know. Such "news,"
whether accurate or not, provides a momentary feeling of superiority and control
that the gossip probably lacks otherwise. If this person's work performance
isn't sufficient cause for recognition, then the next best option is to stake a
claim as the one with the latest inside dirt.
Unfortunately, a gossip isn't satisfied just possessing the information.
After all, knowledge that isn't shared is wasted, right? How would others know
the value of this soul unless the intelligence is disseminated? This is where
others get implicated without necessarily being willing participants. Even the
"innocent" are drawn in to the gossip's web by merely listening. For a few
fleeting moments, this person has everyone's undivided attention, and this is
While gossips themselves might not immediately suffer for their loose
tongues, eventually they will be found out. The consequences may include poor
performance reviews, no pay raises, reprimands from supervisors, or possibly
dismissal because of their involvement in destroying office morale or committing
Gossips are usually proactive in sharing their wealth of information, so
others have little trouble knowing who they are. Smart coworkers will learn to
avoid them any way they can, even though this is not always easy or possible.
Even if you yourself don't initiate gossip, just listening to it takes a toll
and carries consequences. Guilt by association immediately comes to mind. If
several people are present when a gossip leaks a juicy tidbit, you may be
credited as the source at some later point just because you were present.
People's memories aren't always accurate.
Of course, the one who suffers most is the subject under discussion. Even if
the rumor proves to be just that, the damage has been done. Those who have heard
the gossip will be unable to completely erase it from their minds. The
consequences for this person might be devastating.
Since no one benefits from gossip, here are three easy steps you can take to
avoid this career-killing behavior:
1. Don't do it yourself-ever. No, you aren't talking about people for their
own good. You're gossiping. If you really want to help someone, talk to the
2. When someone tries to gossip with you, you can:
- Walk away
- Change the subject.
- Directly state, "I'm not comfortable talking about __________."
- Directly state, "I don't like talking about other people because I don't
like them talking about me." That's a conversation ender for sure.
- Reply, "I hadn't heard that about __________. Let's go ask him/her."
(Watch a gossip disappear when you say that. Gossips are notorious cowards
and dread confronting their subjects.)
3. When someone is gossiping about you, you can:
- Go with the direct approach. Say something such as, "I heard that you've
been saying the following about me." Then briefly summarize what you have
heard. Next, say, "While I wasn't there to hear you, I would appreciate your
coming to me directly with any questions or comments rather than talking
with our coworkers/friends/family/etc."
- Go with the indirect approach. Say something such as, "I don't know if
you've heard the rumors going around about me or not, but they're really
disturbing. If you hear of anyone talking about me, I would appreciate it if
you would ask them to stop."
Just remember, if you don't gossip, you don't have to worry about someone
betraying your confidence and telling other people what you said.
Remember, too, to distance yourself from gossips since you are known by the
company you keep.
Kate Zabriskie is the Founder of Business Training Works,
Inc., specializing in business communication skills including Communication
Skills Training and Business Etiquette Training. To learn more, visit