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The Water Cooler Jungle
Water Cooler Gossip
Have You Ever Fallen Prey to Water Cooler Gossip?
The office "water cooler" can be the place employees gather to vent about how stupid their boss is, criticize some new company policy or talk about the employee that gets on everyone’s nerves. When this happens it becomes the fertile breeding ground for gossip and it's whispers can be vicious.
We’ve all seen co-workers or maybe we are guilty ourselves of congregating in a cubicle, or in the office lunch room or hallway chatting quietly. The office “water cooler” can be any of these places.
There are some who argue that the water cooler is needed. It provides employees with an opportunity to take a break and bond with co-workers. This makes the workplace a more productive environment. In theory this makes sense. However, we all know the downside can be the scenarios listed above.
The water cooler is also a gathering place where you have to be on guard. Like zebras at a watering hole on the Serengeti you have to be on the lookout for predators like the lion or hyena. I’ve spoken with two friends whose water cooler conversations have gotten them into trouble.
One friend said some very harsh things about her boss. Someone told her boss about her comments. The other friend had negative things she said about a co-worker relayed to that person. They both are trying to figure out who their Judas is.
My friends are now in very awkward positions at work. One is very concerned about how this will affect a promotion she wants. They have fallen prey to “predators at the water cooler.” These people penetrate the heard, gather all the dirt and wage a silent attack. Before you know it you’ve been grabbed by the wind pipe and are gasping for air.
Here are a few steps you can take to prevent falling "prey at the water cooler:”
Don’t Participate – I know it’s difficult not to join your fellow co-workers when everyone is gathered and discussing some hot button issue affecting the office. If you find yourself caught in the middle of the group, listen, but don’t participate.
Stay Neutral – If you aren’t able to walk away once the water cooler talks begin and you feel forced to give your opinion remain neutral. Don’t take a side or feed into the negativity.
Confidants – Have someone outside of work you can vent with about work issues like a friend or spouse. This way you are able to vent with people you can trust and who can give you more unbiased feedback.
If you do, like my friends above, find yourself betrayed by someone at the water cooler, you never want to confront the person you suspect of having spilled the beans. You are a professional and you don’t want to make a bad situation worse by adding a confrontation into the mix. This could cause a workplace argument, bad blood and God forbid it get physical. Things can have a way of escalating. You should learn from this and move on.
Just as water cooler breaks can be seen as needed to increase productivity, some bosses may see them as employees being unproductive. If you are part of a water cooler group be mindful of how many times during the day you gather. You don’t want to be labeled a slacker or be seen as part of a radical trouble making gossiping group.
So next time you decide to take a break and talk to your co-workers, be mindful of the conversation. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want repeated. The office water cooler can be beneficial, but you have to try to keep the conversation positive and constructive. Avoid the gossip.
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