You're the Subject of Gossip - Now What Do You Do?

Office Gossips

It's unsettling when you learn that someone is spreading gossip or awful things about you.  This person obviously doesn’t have your best interest in mind and is certainly not a good friend.

Whether the things he said are true or not, information – negative or positive – changes as it is passed along.  If you’ve ever played the “gossip game” you know how this works.

What should you say when you see the person who started the rumor?  Should you confront him?  Let it go?  Or let time prove what a fool he is for speaking untruths?

The Discovery

Part of the unsettling feeling you have in this situation is how far the negative information spread before a true friend stood up for you.  You may find yourself questioning who you can trust.

In some cases, this can feel worse than having people talking about you.

What were the circumstances of your learning that someone has said something bad about you?  Did a trusted friend tell you?  An acquaintance? 

It is beneficial to learn how this person found out about the gossip and why she is telling you now.  Your first question will be, “How did you hear about this?”

Once you know how your friend knows, you can then ask, “Is this what you’re telling people as well, or are you correcting them with the truth?” 

This is a less confrontational way to find out what role this person plays in the situation.  You want to dig deeper, but if you put her on the defensive you may not get an honest answer.

Whatever you do, don’t feed into the drama.  Thank your friend for the information and change the subject.

The Non-confrontation

Odds are, you’re going to see the person who has spoken negatively or untruthfully about you.  And odds are there will be others around when you do.

Would I go out of my way to speak to that person at a party or in public?  Yes, definitely.  But not to confront him.

Confronting that person head on in the presence of others is not the etiquette-ful thing to do.

At a party, gathering, or in a public place, small talk is in order.  And small talk is kept friendly.

  • It only skims the surface so you can use it to delve into deeper conversation or end it so you can move on.
  • With friends and acquaintances, using pleasantries such as asking about recent travels or what the children have been up to, keep the conversation light.
  • Unpleasantness, especially the subject of what that person allegedly said about you, is not only emotionally charged, but poses spill-over risks.  Voices can rise and others around you become uncomfortable.
  • If anything negative does come up during small talk, taking the high road is always best.

Approaching the person at a party seems like a perfectly civil thing to do.  A pleasant greeting and small talk exchange can help remind you that this person is human, too.  It can also be a way for the offended (you) to generously offer an olive branch.  

The person may feel bad and wonder if you know about what was said.  He may mention this, and an awkward moment might ensue.  You, having certain knowledge in mind, might say, “Oh, I heard a few things.  If you’d like to talk about it sometime, I’d be happy to.”  Go from there.

Then go back to the pleasantries of small talk, and before leaving the conversation, make sure you have wished the person well.

Being at a party with a person who has said hateful things about you, and then talking with him in genuine small talk, will demonstrate your desire not to strike back or provoke a harsh confrontation.

After the Party

Regardless of the outcome, keeping your cool and avoiding offensive remarks will make you feel much stronger and better about the situation. 

If a conversation follows and an apology is extended, tell him that you accept his mistake and appreciate the apology.  Giving someone the benefit of the doubt by stating openly that you think the two of you will have positive things to say about one another going forward is a good way to end the conversation. 

If this person does not apologize and a confrontation does ensue, keep your cool.  Try and find out why he is treating you this way in case there is something you can do about it.  But if no resolution is in sight, end the conversation as soon as you can and be ready to accept that this person is definitely not a friend to you.

Gossip spreads like uncontrolled fire and is difficult to put out because, unfortunately, many people thrive on negativity.  The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” applies here.

It’s not necessarily true – words can hurt.  But if you keep your words positive, and prove them through your actions and authenticity, you have a much better chance of keeping the rumor mill quiet.  At least most of the time.



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