It’s Monday morning and everybody’s milling around in the office kitchen, sharing anecdotes from the weekend gone by. You’re buttering your raisin toast when the conversation turns to some juicy “news” about Shane from Accounts and Mel from Marketing. Ooh! Office gossip. Your ears are burning. You want to dig for more dirt. You want to discuss this in detail with your workmates. But something – call it your conscience – holds you back. And good thing, too.
You might think of it as harmless water-cooler banter, but office gossip can be very detrimental to not just your personal but also your professional life. Not only for you, but more so for the people being talked about. More often than not, facts are distorted to make the story sound more interesting like in a game of Chinese Whispers.
Teamwork and co-operation take a nose-dive when someone in your group is being talked about. It results in low morale and reduced productivity. The best way to avoid getting caught up in office gossip – besides avoiding it in the first place – is to be mindful about who you share information with.
You do not want to be pegged as the office gossip. It shows you in a poor light as someone who cannot be trusted with important, confidential information and someone who cannot draw a line between what should and should not be said in a professional setting. Gossiping about your boss or co-workers means you will earn a reputation of being unprofessional and shallow. Once the word gets around, it will be very hard to shake it off and you risk your chances of career advancement. Worst-case scenario? You will be pulled up by management and could even lose your job.
The difference between harmless and harmful gossip
So how do you tell the difference between harmless office chit-chat and malicious gossip?
It’s simple – just ask yourself these three questions:
- Are you saying something negative that you would never say to that person’s face?
- Are you making fun of the person and putting him/her down?
- Is the information unsubstantiated?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the above, you’re guilty of being a gossip-monger. Your moral compass needs realigning so that you can change your behaviour.
Tips to Avoid Getting Caught Up in Office Gossip
- Keep your professional and personal lives separate:
It’s great to be part of a team that gets along so well. You work hard from 9 to 5 and party harder down at the pub for Friday night drinks. After a chardy or two, you might be tempted to say what you really think of your boss but hold your tongue. Some after-hour socialising is definitely good when it acts as a social lubricant and helps co-workers bond with each other, but malicious gossip has the opposite effect.
- Stop the gossip-monger
This is easier said than done because you don’t want to come across as holier-than-thou. But if you feel a co-worker is telling tall tales about somebody else, you need to tell him/her that you are not comfortable with this kind of talk. When you stand up to the perpetrators, you are letting them know that they are crossing a professional line.
- Don’t be an enabler:
When a workplace gets embroiled in gossip, it becomes a den of lies, power struggles and personality clashes. You might think that you are not guilty because you are not contributing verbally to the harmful conversation, but your mere presence in that inner circle of gossip-mongers is damaging enough. All the gossip-monger needs is a willing audience, so if your co-workers are sharing juicy titbits about someone else, stay clear of the conversation.
- Walk away:
Gossipmongers are attention-seekers, always on the look out for a captive audience. If you see a group gathered around gossiping, learn to walk away from them. Keep busy with your work. In this case, your actions (to not participate) do speak louder than words. It shows your integrity and professionalism.
- Change the subject:
Let’s say you’re in a discussion with co-workers and it veers into gossip territory, try to change the topic or stick to subjects that are non-controversial. Better yet, say something positive about the person being discussed. It will derail the conversation.
- Speak to your HR Manager:
If things are getting out of control, you are well within your rights to seek help and intervention. Your Human Resources department should have policies in place to deal with office gossip before it gets out of control. So keep track of things, arm yourself with the facts and let upper management handle the situation.
Water-cooler chats with your office-mates can be fun, but it's when negativity start to run rampant that you may want to maintain a clean conscience. Engaging in rumours isn't necessary for forming friendships at work - and the hostility will only drag you down in the long run.
If you're curious on more ways to build and advance your career (without having to bring others down, of course) - be sure to check out more of SkillsTalk's articles on managing a successful career life.