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Workplace Issues: How to Deal with a Gossip

Updated on June 22, 2013

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Dealing with the workplace gossip

Workers often have to deal with difficult circumstances in the workplace. One circumstance, which many workers find difficult to deal with, is a gossip in the workplace. Gossip is the perversion of the natural friendly interest that humans take in one another. Workers, who spend long hours together, are naturally interested in one another, finding out about one another helps with the trust and relationships that workers must build to co-operate and work together, but occasionally friendly interest turns into malicious gossip. Gossip, with its destructive and insidious tentacles, destroys the co-operative friendly atmosphere necessary for workers to work to the best of their ability.

First determine, whether you are part of the problem. Whilst some workmates become friends, generally your colleagues are not the same as your best friend. Private life and business life are two different things and you should keep the two separate. When you return from your vacation, colleagues always ask whether you enjoyed your holiday. Everyone has at least two versions of the reply to that question. The version they tell their best friend, with the detailed account of their holiday romance, and the brief, edited highlights they tell acquaintances and workmates. People, who discuss the personal details of their private lives, at work, encourage people to chew over those details.

If you gossip about others, you cannot expect other people not to gossip about you. Discretion is a much under-rated quality in the age of celebrity gossip magazines. Knowing information does not give you permission to put it on the office grapevine. Remember, no prudent employer would ever promote a gossip, someone who is so careless with information could not be trusted with the increased access to confidential, sensitive, and private, information, that a superior position would bring.

Gossip needs two people to work, a speaker and a listener. Do not listen to gossip; steer away from the gossip groups in the staff restaurant, or around the water cooler. Supervisors know those liable to gossip and those, who waste working time listening to gossip, rather than working.

Many people advocate confronting gossips, but many gossips relish conflict, using it as fodder for more gossip. Confronting them only feeds their negative behaviour, and the negative feelings that it evokes. More intelligent solutions discourage the unwanted behaviour and, more importantly, do not add to the negativity in the workplace.

When the office gossip comes to you with the latest office scandal, do not react at all, act as though you have not heard the comment. Do not indicate by your expression, or body language, that you heard the gossip at all. Immediately make a positive comment, perhaps a compliment to the gossip on her outfit, a comment on the lovely weather, or on some good news.

This tactic works in many ways. It baffles the gossip, because he, or she, does not get the expected reaction, or the reward he, or she, usually gets from disseminating malicious gossip, and substitutes the positive for the negative. It is very likely that your non-reaction will puzzle the gossip so much, that he, or she, will leave the situation in disarray. However, some determined gossips will attempt to persist in trying to tell you their latest gossip nugget. In this circumstance, cut them short and say pleasantly and politely that you really would like to chat, but that you have so much work that you must get on with it. Then just get on with your work.

It is impossible to change another person. The only thing that you can change is your own reaction to their behaviour. Altering your own behaviour, alters the dynamics of the situation and can ensure that the gossip changes his, or her, behaviour. Your workmates may dislike the gossip culture and wondered how to change it, but been unsure as to how to go about doing so, your example may show them how. The more people that adopt these tactics the more successful they will be, but, at the very least, the gossip will not bother you with malicious gossip because there is no reward for doing so.

The ability to deal with difficult people and situations, intelligently and creatively, is a management skill. Having such a skill, will help you to advance in your career.

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