A workplace filled with drama and gossip is a toxic environment to find yourself in. Not only is it hurtful to those who find out people have been talking behind their back, but it can also damage working relationship, create factions, or cause dangerous confrontations.

There will always be colleagues who enjoy nothing more than spreading rumours or twisted versions of the truth. Some do it simply because they enjoy the attention, others may use it to sabotage someone to get ahead. They could be doing it out of spite and resentment, or because of their own insecurities. Perhaps they don’t even realise they are adding strain to the team.

For the purposes of this article, let’s define what is considered gossip:

  • Spreading rumours and hearsay
  • Spreading false information
  • Not correcting false information
  • Anything meant to humiliate or mock
  • Leaking private information

Identify the situation

The first step is noticing when a conversation has taken a turn into gossip territory. There is a difference between a colleague just needing to vent and unconstructive gossip. Venting is a statement of facts that directly impacts the person and their reaction to those facts. But once it steers into accusations or their assumptions of another person’s behaviour, motivation and/or personal flaws, then you are in the danger zone. If you notice one person who consistently causes drama, take the necessary actions to have as little non-task related interaction with them as possible.

Don’t let it get too far

While it might be enjoyable at the time remember that the more you engage in gossip, the more opportunity you give others to gossip about you. Don’t wait until they have told you the entire story. Find a way to divert their attention. You can try steering the conversation towards a work related task or requirement. Don’t give visual clues that you are interested in listening. Point out how much work you both have.

Or say something positive about the person they are discussing. Often hearing an opposite opinion will cause them to rethink their action.

Sometimes the best thing to do is just to politely excuse yourself and walk away.

Don’t give out too much personal information

It is normal for friendships to develop at work, and you should share enough of your interests so colleagues can get to know you and have friendly conversations. The trick is to not over share. Unless you trust someone completely, it is best to not divulge information that can provide fodder for gossip later on. General topics to try and avoid at work include:

  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Your love life
  • Relationship problems with friends and family

Don’t get confrontational

At some point, you may be the victim of office gossip. You may be tempted to get confrontational, but the majority of the time getting involved makes the situation worse. An emotional reaction could be just what the gossips were hoping for. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Cultivate a support system and work on reinforcing your own self-esteem. Remember all the reasons why you are a valuable employee and human being. Don’t retaliate or stoop to their level. If you do need to address a rumour, approach the instigator in a calm, collected way. Explain the situation from your perspective and point out any negative effects the gossip might have on you.

If a rumour wildly discredits you or has the opportunity to reach your Manager, you should find a quiet moment with your Manager to address the situation. It can be as simple as: “There’s a rumour going around that I was __. I want to let you know that it is untrue.”

Set a better example

If you overhear a juicy story, don’t spread it. Instead, focus your work communications on creating a positive environment by sharing success stories. Strive to build up your colleagues and reinforce the cultural values and key behaviours that will lead to prosperity for all.

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