Gossip is one of the many things that can lower workplace productivity. It also creates an environment of mistrust and can damage working relationships. Even if we don’t start the gossip, listening to it, passing it on, or standing idly by while it’s happening, makes us part of the gossip and helps perpetuate it.
People gossip for many reasons; sometimes they’re just angry or upset, but are too afraid to address the source of their emotion. Other times poor self esteem plays a role. Finally, people can gossip as a way to get others in a group to be “on their side.”
When I talk about gossip, I’m speaking of both positive and negative conversation about another person that is conducted without his or her consent. It’s just as much gossip to talk about a coworker’s promotion as it is to talk about one who is being fired.
Here are some tips to help you avoid the gossip grapevine. Although they’re targeted toward the work environment, they’re just as applicable at home and in other settings.
1. Don’t start gossip.
It seems silly this should have to be #1, but it does. As tempting as it is to share a bit of “news,” good or bad, avoid the temptation. Unless the person about whom you are speaking has given you express permission to share the info, don’t!
2. Don’t be drawn into a gossip discussion.
Even if you didn’t start the gossip conversation, simply joining in and even standing by silently is participation. If someone tries to draw you in, simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable talking about Amy when she’s not present.” Or, “I overheard you talking about Amy and I’m not sure she’d appreciate that information being shared.”
Additionally, when people come to you to “vent” about a third person, it’s probably best to empathize and then redirect them to the person with whom they should really be speaking. “I understand you’re frustrated by the fact that Amy’s been late to work this week. I think it would be best for you to talk to her directly about the problem.”
3. Change the subject when gossip begins.
Although not an assertive method for addressing gossip, it can be a good way to stop it quickly and move on to something else. Sometimes people will get the “hint” that you don’t want to be part of gossip and will discontinue it.
It’s also an acceptable option when you want to stop gossip in a group setting without directly confronting the person gossiping, so as not to cause conflict in front of others. However, keep in mind that changing the subject doesn’t send a strong signal that you’re opposed to gossip and in the long run, is unlikely to stop it.
4. Disagree with the gossip and share alternative or more positive views.
Most people who gossip are looking for someone who will agree with them. When they come across someone who contradicts their viewpoint, the conversation generally comes to a halt.
Simply saying, “I disagree. I find Ray very easy to work with and he’s always met his deadlines when I’ve worked with him,” will likely end the conversation.
5. Confront gossip perpetuators.
Sometimes you might feel that if you’re not directly involved in gossip and are simply overhearing it, you should just stay out of it. Unfortuantely, staying silent does nothing to stop gossip. Additionally, if people know you’re within earshot, or the subject of the gossip finds out later that you were in the room, you’ll likely be perceived to agree with what was said, or at minimum, that you don’t care about stopping the gossip. To respond, see #2 above.
Confronting gossip perpetuators also works when you find out they’re gossiping about you. Although it’s rare for people who gossip to admit it, the confrontation itself is often enough to stop the gossip.
Saying, “Carrie, I understand that you might have some concerns about how I’m handling the project. I’d hope if you did, you’d bring them directly to me. Is there anything we need to talk about? I want to do the best job possible,” will result in either a denial, or if you’re lucky, some honest input from Carrie.
The additional benefit of addressing the issue with Carrie calmly and directly, is the increased possibility that Carrie will feel more comfortable bringing her concerns to you directly in the future, rather than sharing them with others.