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Hearing gossip about yourself or others at work can impact the way you feel about yourself and your organization. Once you hear co-workers talk about you or others, you may wonder what you should do, if anything, to stop it. Effectively and professionally responding to work gossip is essential, no matter what the gossip may be about. In this article, we discuss work gossip along with seven ways that you can deal with it.
Why is it important to deal with work gossip?
Work gossip often starts without the explicit intent to hurt someone. For instance, a co-worker may simply repeat a funny joke they heard without knowing the context. However, if the gossip continues to spread, it can have a significantly negative impact on both the employee it’s about and the company.
Work gossip can also negatively impact someone’s reputation or mood and reduce the productivity of the company. When co-workers form an opinion of one another based on gossip, it can harm their ability to work together. Ending gossip as soon as possible can ensure the organization functions cordially and productively and reduce the possibility of gossip happening to you.
How to deal with work gossip
Here are a few methods you can use to stop work gossip from spreading about you or others.
1. Ignore it
Sometimes the best way to handle gossip at work is to simply ignore it since reacting to the gossip can sometimes help it to spread further. If you ignore the gossip, people may eventually grow bored with the topic and stop discussing it on their own. Try ignoring any gossip you hear for a short time before taking any other action. If the gossip continues to grow, or if it keeps coming back up, you may need to take more direct action.
2. Study it
Before you take any action, you should make sure that what you are hearing is actually gossip. Gossip is different than workplace discussions and not all discussions require some action on your part.
The key difference between a discussion and gossip is whether the focus is on attacking someone’s character. If the individuals are speaking straightforwardly about events related to work, this is likely not gossip. However, if they are talking about things they heard or about the character of an employee, this is probably gossip.
If you decide that it is gossip, and it’s about you, take another moment to see if there is anything you can learn from it. You may discover upon studying the gossip that there is some truth to it and that your behavior is responsible. You can still speak assertively to the individuals doing the gossiping, but you can also consider altering your actions that led to the gossip.
3. Review company policy
Many companies have a policy in place regarding gossip. If gossip at work is bothering you and you want it to stop, you should first check to see if there is a company policy on how to handle it. For instance, the handbook might require the HR manager to step in or that you file an official report.
4. Watch your own conversations
Joining in on gossip only encourages more gossip in the workplace. If you hear gossip, either ignore it or encourage the conversation in another direction. Another option is to disavow the gossip and say something like “We shouldn’t be talking about someone like that.”
5. Keep your private life at home
A good way to prevent gossip about yourself from starting is by keeping your private life private. You spend a lot of time with your co-workers, making it tempting to share information with them about non-work topics. However, the more you share about your personal life, the more likely it is that some gossip will start. Even if you think you are confiding in a close work friend, you are better off leaving your personal life at home.
At the same time, keep conversations with your co-workers professional. Ask them about work-related matters or work-place suitable topics, such as how their vacation was or what they are doing for a holiday. By keeping your conversations professional it will encourage others to do the same.
6. Address it directly
Sometimes, gossip simply won’t go away and you may need to address it directly. To do this, you’ll need to find the source of the gossip and ask to speak with them. When addressing an issue like this, it’s best to keep your focus on the issue itself and not the person. For example, instead of accusing the person who is spreading gossip, keep the attention on the issue of gossiping itself.
If the gossip is all around the office, another option is to send out a mass email that addresses the gossip and presents facts to counter the narrative. For example, if there is gossip that you are leaving your company for a competitor, you can send out a message denying these claims. You could then go on to describe why you appreciate your current position and why you intend to stay.
7. Keep a positive attitude
No matter how you decide to deal with the gossip, it’s important that you remain upbeat to prevent any further negativity. For example, if someone asks you about the gossip, you could respond by saying something like “You heard that about me? That’s so funny!” By maintaining a positive attitude, you’re showing that the individual should not take the gossip seriously, which can decrease the chances of it continuing.
8. Talk to a supervisor
Finally, let someone with authority know about the situation and ask that they do something about it. Supervisors and HR professionals have a professional interest in stopping gossip, so they will likely step in quickly.
You catch furtive glances, snarky remarks, and giggles behind your back. Knowing how to deal with gossip and the people who spread it about you is not always easy but can be done.
Gossip is a habit that throws a damper on life. Elusive as it is, it’s not all out of our control. Here’s what you can do to deal with gossip about you.
Why Do People Gossip?
The first thing to do when people gossip about you is to find the root cause of it. You will find it easier to stop it if you understand the perspectives of the gossipers. Gossiping gives people the chance to spread ‘valuable’ information.
We wouldn’t be able to sustain our societies otherwise, and psychologists suggest as much. Gossip plays a part in maintaining social groups. Furthermore, people find gossip useful when they are not able to get the information themselves.
Hard as it is to believe, people don’t always perceive gossip as unfavorable. Some academics see the spreading of rumor as a form of cultural learning. It presents opportunities to teach children what socially acceptable behavior is.
For example, if there are people in the neighborhood who cheat people of their money, the gossip about them will warn others about their behavior.
How to Deal with Gossip
Gossip is not trivial but draining. It isn’t always easy to brush off, and you may experience a slew of difficult emotions. The first item on your ‘beat-the-gossip’ agenda should be to navigate them.
1. Control Your Negativity
It’s difficult to stop people from talking about you behind your back, but you can choose how to respond to the gossip. You might react to unwanted hearsay with anger, helplessness, and worry. These negative emotions can drain and demotivate you.
Take some time to calm yourself. You’re more likely to come up with solutions when you are not reactive than if you are.
2. Widen Your Outlook
Gossip makes you feel devalued, ashamed, and desperately angry. You feel powerless and may lose sight of the big picture. You may become self-focused and develop a skewed perspective of the situation. You’ll need to develop a positive mindset to avoid this.
3. Be Kind to Yourself and the Gossiper
Forgiving hurts is close to impossible, especially with extreme transgressions. False news can be detrimental in many ways. But as the adage goes, forgive for yourself, and not others.
Studies support the notion that forgiveness benefits a person’s emotional well-being. It renews a person’s energy and empowers him or her.
4. Disassociate from the Situation
Disassociate yourself from the gossip, and acknowledge that the situation doesn’t necessarily reflect you. Then rumors are more about the gossipers themselves. People tell tales about others to protect their egos or positions. They attempt to bring others down to put themselves in a good light.
5. Be Patient
Prepare to play the long game if you are a victim of gossip. A few rumors may be destructive but are likely to be so only for the short term. People will see the truth over time if you let your actions speak for you.
6. Focus on the Positive Than the Negative
It may not seem so, but the good often outweighs the bad. While you may be the target of gossip, your superiors respect you for your work, and you’re taking home a substantial paycheck. Your family loves and supports you, and you appreciate that you have reliable neighbors.
Remembering what’s going right will help you to stomach the unwanted gossip.
7. You’re Not Alone
The most devastating part of going through the stressful experience of being gossiped about is dealing with aloneness. Remember that you won’t be the only one going through it. Build a support system by forming alliances with those who feel the same way as you.
Dealing with People Who Spread Gossip
Besides navigating your emotions, you’d have to deal with the rumor mongers themselves. These suggestions may help you manage your relations with them.
Tell others how the rumors and gossip are affecting you. If it makes you uncomfortable, let those who are spreading the news know that they shouldn’t be saying anything negative about others. If you wish to be more direct, express that the conversation is starting to feel like gossip, and talk about something else.
People who gossip mercilessly usually do so because of low self-esteem. You can turn the tide by saying something to boost their egos. They’d be more likely to feel positive towards you and not say anything hurtful.
You can confront the source of the gossip directly, though not confrontationally. Perhaps the rumors started as a result of a misunderstanding. Addressing the person who spreads the news may give the person a more positive perspective of you and prompt them to stop speaking ill.
Facing a gossip often precedes an ugly situation, and is why few people would do it if possible. But if you explain your point of view and the hurt you feel with sincerity, you may turn things in your favor. Take a non-confrontational approach; you’re more likely to win empathy.
Finally, turn their wild rumors into messages of hope. You can respond to gossip by encouraging people to accept those whom they speak ill of into the community.
Now you know how to deal with gossip and prevent it from influencing you. You’re doing yourself an injustice if you let it dampen your spirit.
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Life Advancer is a blog created by Anna LeMind, B.A., and Panos Karam with the purpose to give you solutions for improving your life and becoming your best possible self. Life Advancer has over 10,000 email subscribers and more than 100,000 followers on social media.
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Susan Heathfield is an HR and management consultant with an MS degree. She has decades of experience writing about human resources.
Gossip is rampant in most workplaces. Sometimes, it seems as if people have nothing better to do than gossip about each other. They talk about the company, their coworkers, and their managers. They frequently take a partial truth and turn it into a whole speculative truth.
They speculate about the company’s future, whether coworkers will get fired, and what other employees are doing in their personal lives outside of work. In short, employees are capable of gossiping about anything—and they do—in a workplace that fails to manage gossiping employees.
Managers and Gossiping Employees
Many managers turn a blind eye to employee gossip (or worse, participate in it). It results in low employee morale and a toxic culture.
In one company, employees knew that the minute they shared information with their marketing manager, he would share it in his one-on-one meetings with every other coworker. The department’s morale was low, and the gossip made the employees distrust each other and not share anything with their manager—all of it the manager’s doing.
Many employees gossip about the amount of money they make—and often, they don’t tell the truth. So, unhappy coworkers beat a path to the Human Resources’ door asking about their own salary.
By law, companies cannot prohibit employees from discussing their salaries, although many companies do have such policies. Their intention is to avoid problems, but they are violating the law in so doing. Employers may not restrict employee discussions about salary.
When to Act
Expect a certain amount of gossip; people want to know what is going on in their workplace, and they like to discuss work issues. The key is to know when the gossip is out-of-hand. You need to act if the gossip is:
- disrupting the workplace and the business of work,
- hurting employees’ feelings,
- damaging interpersonal relationships, or
- injuring employee motivation and morale.
If you find yourself having to address gossip frequently, you may want to examine your workplace to understand the consistent themes in the gossip. Consider that you may not be sharing enough information with employees. It is also possible that employees don’t trust you and are afraid to ask about important topics.
When employees don’t trust their manager or feel that they lack information, they make up information to fill in the blanks. That information is often false, but people may believe it and make decisions based on that information. Or they speculate which can also damage decision making.
The results can be terrible and damaging to employees’ careers and company morale. For instance, if employees hear rumors of layoffs, they may start looking for new jobs and leave when in reality, their jobs were not under threat. Turnover can be very expensive.
If gossip has not been managed in the past, gossip tends to become a negative aspect of your work culture. So, don’t let negative gossip go unaddressed.
If employees are talking about other employees in a negative manner, it can have serious consequences. Frequently, in a toxic gossip culture, there is a small group of employees who cause problems. They often have power and bully other employees and often can bully the boss.
How to Manage Gossip
You can manage gossip exactly as you would manage any other negative behavior from an employee in your workplace. Use a coaching approach, when possible, to help the employee improve his or her behavior. Gossip is often a life-long habit and breaking it can take a great deal of effort. Managers who ignore gossip can destroy a department.
But, when needed, gossip management starts with a serious talk between the employee and the manager or supervisor. If discussion of the negative impacts of the employee’s gossip does not affect subsequent behavior, begin the process of progressive discipline with a verbal warning, then a formal written, verbal warning for the employee’s personnel file.
You absolutely should fire an employee who continues gossiping after participating in coaching. One toxic person can drive your good employees out, especially if they see that the behavior is going unaddressed.
If you assertively deal with gossip, you will create a work culture and environment that does not support gossip. You need to answer your employees’ questions directly and honestly to avoid work-related gossip.
If the gossip is personal, you must go to the employees in question and make it clear that their coworkers are not an appropriate topic.
“Who gossips to you will gossip of you.” -Turkish proverb
Follow these 4 steps to recognize, address, reduce, and eliminate gossip in the workplace.
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One of the best things about connecting with colleagues is the camaraderie that it brings. From coffee breaks in the office, to chat sessions around the virtual water cooler for remote teams, it’s great to have people to share tidbits about life with who know you well — but are somewhat separate from the life you live outside of work. There are certain coworker relationships that are special and valued.
But getting a group of people together can lead to less than ideal outcomes as well. One of those is the all too familiar office gossip problem.
You don’t have to be the victim of office gossip to think back to high school and remember how painful it can be when people talked poorly behind your back. When the chit chat that’s vital to office relationships veers into the unhealthy and hurtful realm of gossip that trades in talking badly about others, you’ve got to do something about it. If an office rumor mill runs unchecked, it can leave its victims without morale and heading to the door — destroying their mental and emotional health along the way.
But what can you realistically do about workplace gossip? How can you even identify it to begin with? Here are a few tips and tricks for noticing, addressing, and ultimately reducing or eliminating dreaded office gossip.
If an office rumor mill runs unchecked, it can leave its victims without morale and heading to the door — destroying their mental and emotional health along the way.
First, don’t contribute to gossip
We can all be lured in by juicy information about people we know, but there’s simply no room for it in a professional setting — especially if you’re in a leadership role of any kind. When you hear gossip, don’t participate in it and consider contrasting it by leading by example. Don’t overshare details of your personal life and don’t indulge in overly personal conversations with coworkers while in the office.
Consider pointing out that the person being discussed isn’t here to defend themselves. Note that just because people are discussing information and passing it on to others doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Have, and enforce, a policy on gossip
If your company has a policy against gossiping, this might be a good time to not only remind employees of it, but why it exists in the first place.
If your company has a policy against gossiping, this might be a good time to not only remind employees of it, but why it exists in the first place. Gossip can be deadly to healthy office relationships and company morale.
If your company doesn’t have an office policy on gossip, now is a good time to add one. Unlike children who are perhaps more apt to take instruction without asking too many questions, rules can be more effective for adults if they are accompanied by a reasonable explanation for why the rule exists. This also shows that you’re not just arbitrarily making rules and trying to control your employees for no good reason — in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Consider outlining the damage that gossip can do in your policy. Research shows that, while workplace gossip can be unifying for those on the inside, it’s damaging to those who are its victims. When gossip is true, it can lead to short-term increases in work effort — but that’s only when it’s true. Either way, workplace gossip leads to its targets losing their desire to cooperate with their team members regardless of whether or not the gossip is true.
Then, outline the disciplinary actions for gossiping at work based on how you classify the behavior at your business. It depends on the nature of the gossip, but you can certainly hold workers accountable for bullying, harassment, or even creating a hostile work environment as a result.
Make transparency king
Oftentimes gossip is the result of a lack of information. Imagine a rumor about layoffs going around and each time someone hears it, they add in their own guesses to fill in gaps in information and before you know it a full-blown falsehood is being circulated around the office.
The best way to manage this kind of gossip is to be as transparent as possible with the information you have, particularly information that impacts your employees. When people are informed with the right information, there’s less space for false information to fill voids.
When gossip does occur, it’s best to act fast in order to nip the behavior in the bud. The longer the behavior goes on, the more other employees will have the chance to witness it and assume that it’s permissible, or at least won’t result in disciplinary action.
Take steps to eliminate the gossip by identifying who has been participating in it, who started it, and who the victim is. Then, depending on the situation, you can set up individual meetings or a group meeting to root out the issue at the core of the rumors and put an end to it then and there. Having a policy on workplace gossip comes in handy during these meetings because it makes it easy to refer the offending parties to the company’s policy and the potential disciplinary actions associated with it.
Treat gossip like any other negative behavior
Just like any other professional behavioral issue, start with coaching first. For many people who have been gossiping since junior high, it can be a tough habit to break so be patient but inflexible in the fact that it has to stop.
While firing an employee for gossiping can seem extreme, consider the tolls it can take on everything — from morale to employee happiness. Termination for office gossip is an option, but it should be a last resort.
Instead, work through traditional improvement and discipline plans that progress through various stages of warnings and improvement plans. It can be tough to let people go for something so unrelated to their performance as an employee, but gossip can kill the positive company culture that you’ve worked tirelessly to construct and maintain. It’s essential that you protect it.