Workplace Gossip: What Is It and How To Deal With It
In this post, you’ll find tips and insights related to workplace gossip. We’ll start by going over a few definitions and questions. Then, look at how to deal with gossip as an employee, avoiding gossip, and dealing with gossip as a manager.
Let’s Answer a Few Questions About Workplace Gossip:
Below are a few of the popular questions that can bring some clarity to the topic of gossip. It’s good to strengthen your understanding of the subject before discussing it and the answers are brief.
What Is Workplace Gossip?
Gossip is an informal communication focused on private personal affairs, talking about people’s personal lives.
That being said, workplace gossip and gossip among family and friends are the same, talking about other people’s lives.
It’s a part of human nature. We like to know what’s going on in other people’s lives, and we like to talk about it with others. Sometimes it can be harmless, and sometimes it can harm relationships and be hurtful to the people you’re gossiping about.
People want something to talk about, and gossip is one way to get conversations going.
When gossip is about other people’s problems, we feel better about our lives, and indulging in gossip becomes more desirable.
Is Gossip in the Workplace Harassment?
The way I see it, gossip is not harassment. It’s about people talking about an issue, and for example, it can be between a couple of friends. However, it can turn into harassment.
Suppose a piece of gossip started spreading among the entire workforce. Everyone knows the situation, and now the news turns into a teasing session. The person everyone is talking about is now given a nickname. Now people are referring to them by their nickname and even making fun of the situation.
They find it funny. Still, the person is experiencing embarrassment and having a hard time coping. It’s no longer gossip. It can be classified as verbal abuse and bullying.
What’s the Difference Between Rumors and Gossip?
A rumor is a piece of non-verified information. Gossip is secret and personal information about someone.
Rumor: During a discussion, an employee spoke with this manager about how slow it’s been lately. The manager has a theory and blurts out casually. With sales being so slow, the company will have to let people go.
There was nothing said to the manager about job cuts. Still, the employee took it as fact without verifying and started to spread the word.
Gossip: Jack was on edge and snapped at Tim when he asked him if he had the daily numbers report. Tim asked Jack, you seem on edge. Is there something going on? Jack said, sorry, I’m under a lot of stress. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m having problems at home, and I am thinking of leaving my wife.
Tim spread the word to others in the department to take it easy on Jack. He’s having marital problems, and he’s going to leave his wife.
The Dangers of Gossip:
Gossip Can Destroy Reputations:
Suppose someone has a good reputation and holds themselves accountable to high standards. Then one mistake becomes the latest gossip.
Gossip can destroy all the work and effort it took to build a good reputation. I am not talking about a conspiracy or hiding some evil act performed by a public official. I am talking about regular working people that may have made a mistake in their past, and someone got a hold of it and used it to fill in the gossip story of the week.
Gossip Can Harm Your Wellbeing:
If you become a gossiper or thrive on it, then it becomes an addiction. If you think about it, you’re looking forward to the negative and getting a rush from the news of other people’s personal lives and problems. You no longer see the good in people but are focused on what’s hiding in people’s closets.
How To Avoid Workplace Gossip as a Coworker:
This section offers tips to someone who isn’t in a management position and would like to avoid gossip when they are at work. Let’s look at a few tips next.
Don’t Share Personal Information:
One way to protect yourself from gossip in the workplace is to keep your secrets to yourself. If no one knows your secrets or a lot about your personal life, then they have nothing to gossip about.
When you’re at work and tell many people, what’s happening in your life, you give them ammunition to gossip. You are just as much to blame as people talking about you because you freely give out personal information.
Watch what you say and who you say it to. Naturally, we all have friends and people we trust, and we discuss our personal issues with those people. Those are the only people that you should be discussing personal issues with.
Don’t Get Romantically Involved With a Coworker:
Having a romantic relationship at work is never a good idea. It’s best to keep your work life and private life separate. Doing this allows you to avoid conflict that may arise due to your relationships at work.
Does everyone keep their work and personal life separate? No, absolutely not, most people make good friends, and sometimes those friendships become romantic relationships. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even though it’s best to keep your personal and work relationships separate, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Suppose you find a good companion that’s right for you. In that case, it’s best to keep the relationship at work professional.
Once you start mixing the two, there could be a conflict, and you can count on gossip going around in the workplace. You can prepare for this by not giving any information about your relationship.
You can control the information flowing on your end, but what about your partner? Will they do the same? Maybe agree not to discuss your relationship with anyone at work, which will keep people from talking because there’s nothing to talk about.
Keep Your Temper in Check:
The first reaction you may have when you hear gossip about you is to become angry. Even though it’s a normal reaction, you must control your anger because you may end up doing something you’ll regret.
If you go on a rampage, you have just fueled the fire for more gossip, now people are talking about your burst of anger, and then they’ll go back to the reason, which is the issue you are trying to get rid of.
Promise yourself you won’t take action until a couple days pass or at least a few hours, so you can think clearly about the actions you will take.
Watch Your Behavior Outside of Work:
To avoid workplace gossip, watch your behavior outside of work. It doesn’t mean that you’re restricted in your life or feel like you’re being watched 24/7. But keep in mind your behavior could affect your work-life. You want to watch what you post on social media and how you conduct yourself.
Your conduct outside of work should adhere to your core values and lifestyle. Naturally, you’re not going to change your life to avoid gossip. You want to live your life without restrictions.
Let’s look at this in another way. Suppose you and a coworker are out late for a night on the town, posting pictures on social media of you and your friend intoxicated and out of control. In that case, you may encounter gossip going around the workplace related to the event.
Your workplace may or may not have a dress code. If there is no dress code in place, you’re free to dress however you want. It’s a free country.
If you are going to dress in a way that draws attention, some gossip may come your way. Dressing appropriately for work can help keep the gossipers away. It’s up to you.
Don’t Vent to People You Don’t Trust:
Whenever you need to vent, be careful who you vent to. Venting in front of the wrong people will attract gossip.
Naturally, when we’re venting, we’re letting our emotions take over, and we want to get whatever is bothering us off our chest. When your emotions take over, you’re not thinking logically. All you care about is getting something off your chest. At that moment, whether they talk about you or not, you don’t care because you just want to get rid of the pressure inside and let the chips fall where they may.
Maybe this has happened to you in your life. I know it’s happened to me many times. After venting, you feel better that you got it off your chest, but many times, you feel like you should have watched what you said in front of other people.
That being said, it’s a good practice to only vent to those people that you trust 100%.
Shift the Subject From Negative to Positive:
When a work event is meant to be social, like a party, you can count on gossip going around the workplace the day after.
You can shift the negative gossip towards the positive without the need to tell everyone to stop gossiping.
Let’s look at a simple example:
Did you see how jack was dancing at the office party? He was dancing like a fool. I couldn’t stop laughing.
You could say something like, I know that party was so much fun everyone just let go and did their own thing. It was nice to see everyone had a good time!
Never Repeat Anything You Feel Shouldn’t Be Repeated:
We all know there are things we hear, and they shouldn’t be repeated. Sometimes it’s hard because the news is something big.
The next time this happens, keep quiet and shift your focus. Become aware of the difficulty of keeping quiet and how you are going through this because of gossip. Think about how it affects the person you’re about to talk about. What if you were in their shoes? How would you feel if people were talking about you? Focus on how gossip does nothing but harm.
Do this every time you hear gossip, and soon you’ll start to hate gossip and avoid it like the plague.
Steer Clear of Gossipers When You See Them Coming:
Usually, the gossiper is known at work, and some people get all their information from them on purpose. If you want to avoid gossip, then one thing you can do is avoid the source. Once you see them coming to spread the word, make yourself scarce or act like you’re in the middle of something. Do this a few times, and they will start to bypass you with the latest gossip because you are hard to get a hold of.
Walk Away From Situations Where Others Are Gossiping:
You’ve been there when a juicy piece of gossip is being discussed among colleagues. You may enjoy it, or you may feel awkward being involved, and you want to get away but don’t know-how.
I have learned to walk away. Just get up and leave. Most of the time, I’m good at getting up abruptly or talking as I’m walking away, giving the signal that I’d love to talk, but I need to be somewhere now.
Do what you can to get away from the gossip sessions. You’ll get better at it with practice.
What To Do if People Are Gossiping About You:
One of the first things you can do when people are gossiping about you is to understand why.
For example, ask yourself why are they talking about me?
- Have you given out this information freely?
- Were you talking about your situation in an open group?
- Did someone get a hold of the information and are spreading it?
Think about the person spreading the gossip? Are they jealous, or are they the office gossipers?
Sometimes when we understand the reason behind something, we can deal with it more effectively. That’s why it’s important to understand why people are gossiping about you in the first place.
Approach the Culprit:
You can approach the culprit. You want to make sure that you are calm and have your thoughts in place before approaching that person. It would even be good to do a practice run in the mirror.
You don’t want to approach the person as a personal attack but rather let them know how you feel. You want them to know you don’t appreciate them talking about you in the workplace and that you want it to stop immediately.
Let It Go:
Depending on the severity of the gossip going around, you may want to just let it go, especially if it’s something minor. Another reason to let it go is it almost everyone is gossiping about the situation. Then you’re not going to go to each and every person as suggested above. You can either let it go and forget about it or take other measures outlined in the next two tips.
Talk to a Manager:
If you don’t want to confront the gossipers, you can speak with your manager to let them know that you’re aware of the gossip and want it to stop. As a manager, they cannot ignore the situation they have to take action.
Talk to HR:
Another option to deal with gossip in the workplace is to speak with HR, so they’re aware of the situation and see what advice they have. If you have done your part. They may take it from here. They may speak with the gossip spreaders or speak with the workforce as a group.
How To Stop Workplace Gossip as a Manager:
As a business owner or manager, it’s up to you to deal with gossip in the workplace. When there is gossip at work, I don’t think it will go away on its own. People like to gossip, and it is a part of human nature; therefore, if you ignore it will get worse.
Let’s go over a few tips for you as a manager or a business owner to deal with gossip in your workplace.
Set an Example:
You can set an example by not gossiping and not participating in any gossip that is going around in the workplace. When you’re a part of a gossiping group, you can say something like the following:
I’m against gossip it’s, and I don’t think it’s appropriate in the workplace. Therefore, I’m not going to participate in this. Even though you are not banning employees from gossiping, you are letting them know your thoughts. By not participating, you are setting an example. This will discourage some people, not all, from gossiping.
As a manager, you can also watch what you say and make sure your casual conversations are not bordering on gossip. Sometimes people end up gossiping when it’s not intended.
Have a Team Meeting:
You can have a team meeting to discuss the effects of gossip in the workplace. You can focus on points such as:
- Productivity diminishes when gossip is continuous.
- People can be hurt by gossip
- Gossip is harmful to both the participants and the people being targeted.
- You can also offer tips and methods to avoid gossip and to put a stop to it when you’re approached by someone gossiping.
Talk to the Gossipers:
You can have a word with the people that are gossiping in the workplace. Tell them how this is a harmful practice and that they are affecting people’s lives.
You can take the example to an extreme outcome. Suppose your employees are gossiping about their coworker, John. You could ask questions such as:
- Have you ever considered what gossip does to people?
- What if they become so upset, they end up quitting their job?
- What if the person goes into a state of depression?
- What if the worst of the worst happened and the person committed suicide?
- What if any of the above happened to John? How would that make you feel? Could you live with that burden?
No one that participates in gossip wants people to get hurt, mentally or physically. By outlining that people do get hurt, it can help reduce gossip in the workplace.
Create a Gossip Tolerance Policy:
You can put a non-gossip policy in place. The first thing you want to do is make sure that putting such a policy in your workplace is legal. If so, make sure your policy is clear, easy to understand.
In summary, adhere to the next four points:
1. Identify the points
2. Make it clear and easy to understand
3. Make sure it’s legal
4. Outline the harmful effects of gossip
Take Disciplinary Action:
When you have a no gossip policy in place, you can discipline people when they break the rules. Suppose you stick to disciplinary action for all people that are caught gossiping. In that case, you’ll send a strong message that management will not tolerate this type of behavior.
Create a Non-Gossip Campaign:
You can create a non-gossip campaign. Your campaign would consist of spreading awareness.
You can spread awareness by using some of the following ideas:
- Create a survey to see how your employees feel about the topic.
- Put up posters in the workplace.
- You can send out emails once a week or every month.
- Create a Non-Gossip work event. Use your imagination.
- You can have coaching sessions for management to deal with their teams.
Well, I hope you have found the tips in this post useful! Gossip is something you’ll encounter at work, with family, and when you’re with friends.
It’s human nature to gossip. With the tips we went over, you can reduce gossip at work. The biggest tip to stop gossip is your choice to participate or not. If you really want to avoid it, then you’ll need to take action. The decision is yours.