Gossip: inevitable and often unavoidable, is a staple in office politics everywhere. Many studies have been conducted about the history of gossip and why we engage in it. Some say that we gossip because it is a basic instinct of ours to be able to assess our opponents, or “size up” the competition, as some say. Some studies even say that gossip can be a positive thing.
Positive or negative, gossip more often than not is a distraction or annoyance to those who do not wish to engage in it. For many, the temptation to join in on the office blabber is too strong. One thing is for sure –gossip is here to stay, no matter where you work. As a relative of mine said to me, “it never gets better; there will always be drama in the office.” He may be right, but there are a few things you can do to not be completely sucked into idle chatter.
I won’t give any suggestions on how to identify the office “gossip,” because for many, this is obvious. There are usually one or two people who start the gossip chain in your department (or your entire office, depending on the size of your company). Beware how you approach this person and engage in conversation with her (or him, though unfortunately, most office gossipers have been identified as women). If he or she makes a comment about her boss or coworker, be careful not to openly condone these remarks; all this person is trying to do is get you to make similar remarks. It can be difficult, but try saying “I don’t know” or “I’m sorry to hear you feel that way” and change the subject.
A chronic gossiper will try time and time again to engage you in speaking negatively, but usually after a few failed attempts, he or she may eventually leave you alone and move on to the next un-assuming coworker. When this happens, don’t get involved by warning the coworker about the person gossiping. As adults, we are all capable of making sound judgments of others. Should this new person become engaged in gossip with the original offender, it is not your responsibility to save her/him.
Many times, when we try to take the neutral approach to office politics, we end up being on the receiving end of the negativity. Even if you are coming in to work, performing your job well, and taking the time to be cordial with everyone, sometimes you will still become a victim of gossip. Usually, the person making the negative comments about you either sees you as a professional or personal threat to them, or sometimes you just happened to cross the wrong path on a particular day. Who knows! In this instance, you have to trust that people are able to think for themselves. Go about your work day as usual, but be mindful to acknowledge people you think may have been gossiped to about you. Continue being cordial, but make an effort to strike up positive conversations. Let people see a part of your personality that the office gossiper has tried to tamper with.
You don’t have to go out of your way to befriend people just because they may have heard something negative about you, but if you want to change their perceptions, you have to advocate for yourself. Another solution would be to confront the person gossiping, but as I mentioned, gossip is never-ending. You can at least let the offender know you are aware of what they’ve said about you, and offer to speak with them to sort things out professionally. If that does not work, you at least made the effort to resolve the conflict at its source.
In an extreme case in which your position is gravely affected by the gossip, you may need to inform your immediate supervisor or human resources manager. First, ask your supervisor if there are any areas within your position that you need to improve, or if there are any matters concerning your job that need to be addressed. Without your manager telling you that they’ve heard any gossip, you cannot confirm it, so be cautious in how you approach this subject. If you are truly worried that the gossip is going to affect your job, be open with your supervisor and relay the issue. This is your moment to brag about how well you are performing your job, so be sure to highlight your responsibilities and how the gossip is a distraction.
What happens after that depends on your management. It is doubtful that the overall gossip will stop, but it may not occur on the level it once had. If things begin to escalate, do some research on workplace harassment, and if need be, seek legal advice. Hopefully, you would not have to take those measures!
I hope that the tips given here are helpful. While gossip occurs in every office and there is often little you can do to prevent it, at a minimum you can control how you deal with it.