Deal with Office Gossips and
Help Tame the Rumor Mill

Taking a Gossip Break

Many work environments are a breeding ground for ideas, but also a notorious hotbed for gossip.  Whether it’s speculation about co-workers’ personal lives or whispers about upcoming company changes, gossip can be a major distraction and create a toxic work environment.

Unfortunately, we all must deal with office gossips at some point – or several times – during our careers but there are methods to make this a fairly easy task.

Resist the Urge to Engage

The simplest and most straightforward method to deal with office gossips is not to engage in their babble.  When someone tries to pull you into a gossip session, politely excuse yourself or redirect the conversation to something work-related.  There is no need to be rude, but saying, “That’s not really my place to say” or “Let’s focus on our current project” can shut down the conversation.

Informal chit-chat occurs in any given workplace every day.  Whether at the water cooler, coffee station, or company cafeteria line, people who see each other a minimum of five days a week are going to become familiar.  Familiarity means more cooperation between coworkers and, therefore, more productivity.  The problem occurs when the boundaries of small talk are not clear.  And any negative comment or piece of information will become fodder for the rumor mill.

When does informal chit-chat become office gossip?

  • When there is an intention to belittle or hurt the reputation of another person(s), whether it’s the boss or a co-worker, or person in another department or related company.
  • When the person directly involved in the situation being discussed is not present in the conversation.
  • When it’s clear that no one benefits from the information shared.

If you face a situation of whether or not to engage in gossip and want to leave it, you need to exercise a choice of action.

  • Walk away.
  • Stop the conversation and make the person or group aware.
    “I fear we're heading down a wrong corridor with this conversation.”
  • At a later and more opportune time, have a private conversation with the person who was gossiping in an effort to encourage them to avoid the behavior as well.

Gossipers thrive on attention.  By refusing to listen or engage, you take away their audience and weaken the spread of rumors.

How to Deal with Office Gossips When They’re Talking About You

The less personal information you share at work, the less you contribute to the gossip mill.   Keep your work life and personal life separate.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with colleagues but be mindful of what you disclose.

If the gossip is about you and starts to impact your work, consider a direct but professional approach.

  • Talk to the person spreading the rumors privately.
  • Focus on the facts and calmly explain your displeasure and request that the gossip stop. 
  • Avoid talking to anyone else about this conversation unless you feel you need to report the entire chain of events to management or human resources.

Keep in mind that your request, even if honored temporarily, is not likely to be honored permanently.  And while being tempted to retaliate with your own gossip is understandable, resist the temptation!  It only escalates the situation and makes you look petty.

Foster a Positive Work Culture

Sometimes, gossip is a symptom of a larger issue – a lack of trust or clear communication within the company.  If you can, promote a more positive and collaborative work environment. This can help reduce the appeal of gossip and encourage open communication.

  • Be mindful to keep all conversations factual.
  • Don’t speculate about motives or personal intentions.
  • Be as transparent as you can, keeping within company policies in doing so, to keep speculation at bay.
  • If there is a problem, confront it directly and face to face.

You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control your own.  Office gossip has the potential to hurt people personally and professionally.  It also damages morale, causing a multitude of issues.  But you can minimize the impact of office gossip and help maintain a professional and productive work environment.  

You may also enjoy reading . . .