Let’s face it, when it comes to our work lives some of us spend more time with the people we work with than we do with our spouses or children – our “real” families. We are with our co-workers up to 40+ hours per week, however, when you subtract sleeping we may only spend about 40 waking hours with those we love. Our work family many times is our second family. When you spend that much time with people, sometimes the relationships become more comfortable and conversations become more personal. The light chitchat conversation can easily turn negative and evolve into gossip.
Gossip destroys trust, causes employees to second guess one another, distracts from real issues, reduces productivity, and can hurt feelings. Gossip kills teamwork. There is no place for it at work, yet it is common. Gossip thrives on knowing and sharing information about others. Sometimes you get sucked into gossip and you don’t even realize it. Gossip often contains hints of what someone knows, but they might not come right out and make a statement, leaving much to the imagination. That tactic is bait as they are trying to get you involved in “stirring the pot” and asking questions to reveal more. This puts the person gossiping in a position of being “in the know” and often people go to this person for information, which gives them a sense of power that they need but are unable to get fulfilled elsewhere.
You can identify gossip by considering the impact of what is being said. Does it cast negative implications? Does it create rifts in workplace relationships? Does it have a negative emotional charge that is hurtful or damaging?
So what can you do when someone engages you in gossip? Here’s my advice:
- When you overhear a conversation, don’t repeat it. You don’t know the facts, context, and may end up taking gossip to rumor levels and that runs the risk of far more damage. When you repeat something you overhear, you are just as bad as the person gossiping.
- Stay busy. If you are focused on your work, you aren’t available to hear the latest story.
- Ask about the facts. Question why the information is important and be willing to stand up and say you don’t feel it’s right to talk about others in a way that isn’t productive.
- Don’t react to the information. The person gossiping often thrives on reaction! The bigger the reaction, the more they like it and want to keep sharing.
- Say something positive. You have the right to defend your company and co-workers.
- Ignore the person gossiping. Tell them you don’t have time to gossip or change the subject. Did you know that when you listen you actually support and promote gossip? Ignoring the gossip helps you avoid being guilty by association.
If you feel the gossip is damaging to the point where it needs to stop, get a manager involved. Gossiping wastes time and can have a negative impact to the work environment. A manager who cares about the work environment will want to get involved with the situation.
I found a poem about gossip on the internet that puts it into perspective. I hope this helps you think twice about the information you share.
“My name Is Gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age. The more I am quoted the more I am believed. I flourish at every level of society. My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face. To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I am nobody’s friend. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. I topple governments and ruin marriages. I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartache and indigestion. I spawn suspicion and generate grief. I make innocent people cry in their pillows. Even my name hisses. I AM CALLED GOSSIP.”
– Author Unknown
As the regional manager of Celebrity Staff, a leading staffing and recruitment firm, Patty North has assisted organizations across a four-state region with the development and implementation of best practice strategies in the areas of talent acquisition and talent management. Her collective insight and expertise on workforce planning, garnered from her 19 years in the staffing industry, has enabled clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 corporations to improve performance and gain a competitive advantage in their respective markets. Patty has served as an Advisory Board member of ICAN (Institute for Career Advancement Needs), is a past-president of the NE Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NAFCS), and has been a guest speaker at the University of Nebraska – Omaha on topics ranging from resume writing to interviewing. Patty has also been a guest presenter at Women’s Leadership Conference and break-out session presenter at the Nebraska State Human Resources Association annual conference.
In addition, Patty is a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and has her Senior Professional in Human Resources Certification (SPHR). She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Resources and Family Sciences.