Managing Office Gossip

Office Gossips

There are many factors that can affect work productivity.  One of the biggest culprits is office gossip.

Discussions about office operations, projects, policies and procedures, and personnel can lead to crossed boundaries.  Especially when emotions are running strong or a perceived offense has been registered.

Etiquette requires that everyone in a workplace act as individuals to show up recognizably respectful to others and themselves.  In other words, it’s up to each individual to do something about office gossip.

Why We Gossip at Work

Nearly any conversation has the potential to lapse into gossip.  This is especially true when there is room for speculation.

  • “Mr. Dalhart was on a very long conference call yesterday with Evergreen Enterprises.  I wonder if he’s going to sell the company.  Do you think our jobs are secure?”
  • “Don and Teresa had a ‘working lunch’ in his private conference room yesterday.  Wonder what’s going on there.”
  • “David hasn’t brought in any new clients in nearly a year.  Surely they won’t keep him on much longer!”

The biggest problem with speculation is its margin for error.  You don’t know the whole story, you’re discussing it with others, and there is a high probability that it concerns none of you who are talking about it.

Why would you chance talking about something that may be untrue?

  • A lack of confidence in yourself, your manager, or the company can result in unproductive talk.
  • You get attention from others when you highlight the negatives of someone else.
  • Just in case the information is true, you will be recognized as the one with the inside scoop.

However, it is important to remember that your actions have consequences.  Spreading speculations or untruths can easily come back to haunt you.

Small Talk or Office Gossip?

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.

There is nothing wrong with this.  Familiarity means more cooperation between coworkers and, therefore, more productivity.  This is a good thing.

The problem occurs when the boundaries of small talk are not clear.  And any negative comment or piece of information is bound to be passed forward.

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 words spoken are behind the back of the person directly involved.
  • When listeners don’t speak up to defend or protest, they are a part of the gossip.
  • When it’s clear that no one benefits from the information shared.

A Tried and True Test

My one tried and true test for realizing and stopping gossiping requires a mindful question:
Would I say this in front of the person being referenced?

And, if I am hearing something about someone else that is hurtful:
What am I going to do about this? 

A choice of action is required, especially if you intend not to participate in the gossip.

  • Walk away.
  • Stop the conversation and make the person or group aware.
    “We are heading down a wrong corridor with this conversation.”
    “I’m uncomfortable with these unkind words.”
  • Report the incident to a superior.
  • At a later and more opportune time, have a private conversation with the person who was gossiping. 

In every work environment, there is ample opportunity to lead by example.  Rather than engage in gossip, maintain a professional image:

  • 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.

Office gossip has the potential to hurt people personally and professionally.  It also damages morale, causing a multitude of issues for managers and human resources personnel.  The only way to avoid the chaos gossip will leave in its wake is to avoid it completely.

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