An unfortunate fixture in nearly every office setting across the globe, office gossip is problematic at best. Though most gossip is typically innocuous, some of it can be downright mean. If gossip is a problem in your office, there are a few ways you can help to protect yourself and others from getting caught up in it.
Laugh it Off
You know there isn’t actually a shrine dedicated to cheese in your living room, but that doesn’t keep Peggy from accounting from telling every person who walks by her office that there is. Much like in high school, the more people can see it bothers you; the more likely they are to continue to do it. If the gossip is generally harmless in nature, it’s best to simply laugh it off. If the desired effect is not achieved, there’s a good chance the antagonist will become bored with the game and back off. Another option is to own it. Maybe the gossip is about your struggle with a particular task. Own It! “Yeah, that was a doozy, but I made it through it.”
This, of course, only applies if the gossip is generally harmless in nature. Do not admit to things that aren’t true or are malicious in nature. Getting mad won’t help your cause here so it’s important not to lose your cool. As aggravating as gossip can be, an emotional outburst can easily be misconstrued as an admission of guilt.
Take a Personal Inventory
Cheese shrines aside, it’s hard for people to gossip if they don’t have anything to base it on…though if you bring a cheese platter for lunch every day, you may at least be able to see where this is coming from. Take some time to do a little introspective searching. Does the gossip stem from personal information you may have been too liberal with? If that’s the case, it’s time to pull back a bit. The less people know, the less ammo they have. These coworkers should know just enough to be able to have a friendly conversation with you; anything more and you open yourself up to the possibility of hurtful gossip. Keeping your private life private is a foolproof way to cull a lot of rumors about you.
Don’t Get Involved
In some cases, the gossip isn’t even about you. Your best bet here is to not get involved. If a coworker is spreading gossip about another coworker, change the subject or dismiss yourself from the conversation altogether. Gossip that falls on deaf ears isn’t as much fun for the gossipers. Avoid chiming in. A good rule to live by is to never say anything privately that you wouldn’t say publicly. If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t say it behind their back. Word travels at Mach speeds in office environments and anything you say will almost always come back to you.
If you prefer a more direct approach, tell the gossiper you think what they’re doing is pretty uncool. Gossip can hurt not just feelings, but careers. Tell them you don’t want to partake in talking about someone who isn’t present to tell their side. In this situation it’s better to address the act of gossip rather than point the finger at the individual perpetuating it. Remember, it isn’t your job to council your coworkers, but you can certainly make it known where you stand on the issue.
Take a Direct Approach
If you know where the gossip is coming from your first step should be to take it to the source. In doing so it’s important not to take an aggressive approach here. If you put them on the defensive they may retaliate…with more gossip. Rather, initiate in a lighthearted manner and set a lighter tone. Avoid accusations, but rather, address the issue of the gossip as the problem, not the person. Explain why this is troublesome for you. Express your desire for this to stop. Granted, there’s no guarantee this will end the gossip, but at least you tried!
Take it up the Chain
When all other options are exhausted and the gossip persists, it’s time to take it up the chain. It’s helpful to have documented this as much as possible along the way. Explain to your boss why this is affecting you. Should this not help either, take it to HR.
Hang in there. Gossip doesn’t stay fresh forever. Know it will pass and as long as you aren’t providing any new juicy information, gossipers will eventually move on. Keep your head up, do your job and do it well, and never let them see you sweat!