Office gossip is alive and well and likely to continue into the next millennium. One study done by the University of Amsterdam has revealed that 90% of the conversation in the workplace can only be defined as gossip. It has also wormed its way into office emails where it is estimated that it occupies about 15% of office communications.
Now, gossipy colleagues may actually perform a useful function, if the gossip remains at a harmless level. It can also be quite funny and entertaining as in the BBC’s classic TV show The Office. Gossip can also fill a gap when office communications and management are inadequate.
But what can you do if you have gossipy colleagues who are hell-bent on character assassination or who are determined to gain an advantage by spreading certain rumors? It can be a negative force and can fuel resentment, fear, envy and low morale. This is when office gossip becomes the ugly face of office politics.
Here are 7 actions to take when you have gossipy colleagues.
1. Take action to stop negative gossip
If you are in a team leader role, you may have to take decisive action against individual colleagues who are indulging in negative gossip which is affecting morale and also productivity. This will have to be done on a one-on-one basis.
It will be up to you to keep the lines of communication open so that negative gossip never gets a foothold. Damaging gossip is fueled by a lack of appropriate communication.
2. Ask penetrating questions
“I know nothing more annoying when people I don’t know jump to conclusions on my person based on nothing but gossip or speculation.”- Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
If you find a colleague who is telling you doubtful details about a co-worker, try to pin her/him down. You can also ask for more details which will usually get a rather vague response. You can ask detailed questions about when and why various incidents occurred. The idea is to put the gossipy colleague in a difficult position which will expose him or her for what they really are – a gossip-monger.
3. Stay out of the gossipy colleagues’ radar
“Gossip is the Devil’s radio” – George Harrison
If you decide to have no part in this type of gossip, you can very frankly say that you are just not interested in harmful conversations about colleagues. The gossiper will then leave you alone as he will view you as a poor gossip-monger. You can feel proud that you have taken such a stance. If all your colleagues did that, then this destructive gossip would dry up. Gossipy colleagues with no audience are dead in the water.
4. You can threaten to repeat the gossip to the victim
Gossipy colleagues hate this because they know that they will be exposed. Just say that you intend to repeat back to the hapless victim what you have just heard.
5. Being friendly with the office gossip will not protect you
“Who gossips to you will gossip of you” -Turkish proverb
You might prefer to take a more friendly approach. You might think that tolerance will go far and that you can handle the gossip in a light-hearted way. The only problem is that gossips talk about everyone so you may soon be a target!
6. Teamwork can work well
Try teaming up with your other co-workers. You can play a prank with their help. Invent some gossip about yourself and tell the gossiper that it is top secret. Let your colleagues know and when the gossiper tells everyone, you can confront her and ask her why she betrayed your trust on such a confidential matter. That should silence the muckraker.
7. Talking at the water cooler
This is where you will hear a lot of office gossip. If you find that the topic is the usual one about the uncertain future of the company, or some nasty back stabbing, then try to change the subject. Bringing up a neutral topic like a sports competition, food, sleep, or weather can often break up the gossipy colleagues. If you do not want to be involved at all, then tell them you have an urgent deadline to meet.
Avoiding harmful and horrible gossip is feasible if you follow the pointers above. The best solution is to steer clear of gossip when possible, and when you can’t, invent an excuse to get away. Urgent phone calls and meetings are very useful!
Have you worked with gossipy colleagues and how did you deal with them? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured photo credit: Gossip Girls / Art G. via flickr.com