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Dealing With Workplace Gossip

Updated on December 11, 2010
Workplace gossip is as old as the workplace
Workplace gossip is as old as the workplace

I was strolling down the hall one day when I overheard someone say “Well, you know people are going to talk”. Having no idea what or whom this conversation concerned, I kept walking. But, I was curious. What are people going to talk about? Someone has done something. Worth talking about. And I have no idea who or what. I felt only slightly guilty for waiting to know the particulars. I strained to hear more, but the voices dropped off to a level best suited for such tawdry blather.

Workplace gossip is as old as the workplace, and it will never go away. It’s human nature to engage in gossip, and the workplace just seems to be such a fertile incubator for it, especially considering the many dynamics and power struggles perpetually at play. So I’ve come up with few rules regarding workplace gossip which I’ll share here:

Don’t ever gossip at work

I know, it sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But, it isn’t. Don’t ever initiate or propagate gossip. It’s fine to listen to gossip, as long as you-

Play dumb

Whenever someone walks up and asks if you’ve heard “the latest”, always say no, then act very interested. For two reasons: One, you don’t want people to think you engage in gossip. And, two, if people think you’ve already heard “the latest”, they’ll be more interested in knowing what you’ve heard. This way, you get the complete spiel.

Compare the versions

As sad as it sounds to come right out and say, about 90% of all the workplace gossip I’ve ever heard turned out to be basically true. The details are typically where people tend to elaborate and speculate. If you hear multiple versions of the same scuttlebutt you can typically, through the process of elimination, hone in on the facts.

Gossip is still bad

Yes it is. There are many things that go on in the typical workplace that are bad, and you aren’t going to stop those things from happening either. By listening sympathetically, but refusing to spread gossip, you’ll earn the reputation of someone who can be trusted to not skewer a co-worker behind their back, but not coming off as someone who’s “too good” to enjoy a juicy tidbit on occasion.

What’s the point?

Workplace gossip isn’t always tearing someone down that’s not around to defend themselves. If there are rumors floating around about impending layoffs, or a merger, for example, then the more advance notice you have the better. Companies will sometimes intentionally plant and spread rumors as a kind of trial balloon to gauge employee reaction. Just remember to take everything you hear with a grain of salt unless and until there’s proof.

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