gossip folks

Staying Out of Workplace Gossip

Ask The Expert
By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I have a coworker who loves to gossip. While I’m not above engaging in it from time to time, what’s the best way to get this person to leave me out of the latest office chatter?

A: Some people gossip because they feel insecure at work. Some do it to draw attention to themselves, and still others just plain love to talk about people. It is just a fact of life that gossip exists in the workplace, but I admire you for wanting to stay out if it.

That may not be possible, depending on how pervasive gossip is in your workplace—especially if you manage a team. Here are some things you can do to keep your involvement to a minimum:

  1. Ask the person spreading the gossip why they’re sharing it with you. This conveys that you see the information as potentially damaging.
  2. Tell the gossiper that you plan to let the person they’re talking about know what’s being said. This shows the gossiper that you’re not someone they want to share idle gossip with, and this may take you out of the loop.
  3. Inform the gossiper that you aren’t interested in hearing anything that is not work related. Participating in work gossip can have a negative impact on your career and hurt others, so stand up for yourself.
  4. Spend some time with the gossiper to see if you can figure out why he or she is spreading the message. If there is truth to the gossip, it may be something you need to address.
  5. Make it clear that gossip will not be tolerated in your organization. Set a policy that outlines what gossip is and how it will be handled.

During times of rapid change and uncertainty, gossip will naturally increase due to fear and anticipated negative outcomes. This is a time to over-communicate.

If the subject of the gossip is workplace change, that’s a different story. During times of rapid change and uncertainty, gossip will naturally increase due to fear and anticipated negative outcomes.

This is a time to over-communicate. Acknowledge the fears and share facts as they become available. Be honest about what you do and don’t know and what you can and cannot share, then do your best to find out what people need to know to stop gossiping and continue being productive. Remember, in the absence of information, people assume the worst.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Career Development