Defeating the Gossip Beasts

Hey, have you heard the news about…

Did I get your attention?
Yes, today’s topic is gossip—that somewhat sadistic beast that we’re all suspect to at some point in our lives. But, regardless if we participate in the rumour mill, we know it’s not a mill that should be running—especially in the workplace.
I was talking with a friend of mine recently about a situation that she’s dealing with at work.
It seems that a colleague of hers has turned into a supreme gossiper. Perhaps she always was, but until a recent situation, no one had ever realized it.
Of course there will always be rumours and gossip in any organization—some more harmful and destructive than others.
And more often than not, those ‘supreme gossipers’ seem to take particular pleasure in being ‘in the know’ and then sharing that knowledge with anyone and everyone that they can—regardless of the consequences.
If you’re rolling your eyes or nodding your head to yourself, you probably know someone like this. In fact, I’m sure you do. Most workplaces have them, and as we’ve learned in previous posts: attitudes and behaviours are infectious!
Furthermore, the destructive nature of this behaviour is so powerful that it’s one of the reasons that gossiping is usually specifically listed within most ‘Respectful Conduct in the Workplace’ policies as an example of ‘unacceptable behaviour.’
Most policies should suggest that you talk to the person personally about your experience and the impact of their behaviour on you.

Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with these office-gossipers…

Remember that they get satisfaction from being the first with the news. They also get satisfaction from the reaction of the people that they share this news with. So, one good way to remove that reward is to clearly tell them that you are not interested in the gossip.
Try saying this:
“Phil, I don’t think that what you’re saying is very kind at all. I’m also not even sure it’s true. I’m really not interested in spending any time on this kind of thing.”
On the other hand, if you, like my friend, are the focus of the gossip, then you’ll need a different approach altogether. The important thing is to remain calm and pay attention to your body language.
Once you’ve collected yourself, try approaching the co-worker with this:
“Phil, I’d appreciate you clearing up some confusion. I’ve heard that you said this about me. Is that true? Why would you say something like that? I really don’t appreciate that kind of thing. I’d like you to know that I want it to stop.”
If that doesn’t work or if it’s not something that you feel you’re able to manage successfully for one reason or another, then you should certainly involve your supervisor— either to help facilitate a meeting with that person, or for the supervisor to talk to them on your behalf.
Of course, the idea behind any of these strategies is to simply get the behaviour to stop and for the person to realize the impact they’re having on their co-workers. Then everyone can get on with work without having to deal with any uncomfortable feelings. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask from adults, right?
I wish you luck decommissioning the rumour mill!


About the Author:

Phil Eastwood is a former London Bobby who brings a thirty-five year career in policing to his role as Senior Partner of Fiore Group Training, a recognized leader in training top North American organizations. Phil is lead author of workplace training courses in respectful workplace training, workplace violence employee training, and leadership training seminars.

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