Gossiping at Work: How to Gracefully Avoid Getting Tangled Up in Words

There’s a difference between friendly work discussions, where you chat about others and are generally supportive, and “confidential” gossip that shares less-than-flattering information about coworkers. Gossip typically takes the form of a rumor that can become exaggerated over time.

Gossiping at work can be hazardous to your career. Sure, sometimes it can be tempting to figure out just what’s happening to your coworker in the next cubicle or to understand why things always seem so tense between your boss and the manager next door. Although some gossip can be harmless, it can often backfire and negatively impact your career.

If your colleagues are spreading rumors, how can you gracefully avoid or even confront the behavior? Here’s some key advice for navigating these tricky waters.

How Gossiping Can Hurt Your Career

If you become known as a gossiper, you might initially become popular as someone who knows everything, but over time, fewer and fewer people will trust you. You may earn a reputation for being a troublemaker and not a team player. People who spread rumors may also appear to be lazy. Forbes reports that gossiping ranks as the second biggest time-waster at work, right after personal phone use.

Gossiping can also hurt your career if you become fuel for the rumor mill. You can’t stop all rumors, but you can employ a few tactics to help keep gossip at a minimum.

Avoid Gossip with Grace

Usually, the classy way to handle gossip is simply to avoid it. If you know a chronic busybody, try to avoid them. If they stop to chat, let them know that you’re busy with deadlines or change the subject. Don’t repeat the “dirt”. In fact, if you share a positive story in reaction to the gossip, you might find that chatty coworkers seek you out less and less. It’s typically not as fun to dish with someone who brings positivity to the conversation.

Confronting Gossip

There may come times when avoidance simply isn’t enough. You may have to confront a gossiper if they’re eating away at valuable work time or spreading a rumor about you that’s hurting your reputation. In an article published by LinkedIn, Joshua Miller, PayPal’s director of learning and talent development, suggests letting the perpetrator know that you’ll follow up with the target to get the truth. You can bring this up subtly if you are worried about the gossiper having a strong, negative reaction.

If the gossip is about you, confront the issue, not the person. Miller suggests asking your colleague what the problem is and letting them know that you’re concerned about the rumors. How can you fix what’s bothering them?

Redirecting Gossip

If you regularly see a group of gossiping colleagues, you can’t just ignore the problem. Harvard Business Review suggests encouraging communication to counteract gossiping at work. If your company does not have one, you may want to suggest instituting an open-door policy for sharing concerns. If someone comes to you with gossip about a colleague, you can try to redirect the conversation into something more professional and productive. Ask neutral and open-ended questions like “Do you have any concerns or issues?” or “How is working with [person]?”.

You’ll be doing your career a big favor if you avoid becoming entangled in workplace gossip. First, keep your work relationships professional and be careful about who your confidantes are. Second, use social media with care. Don’t make your posts public. If you add colleagues as friends, give them a limited “business only” privacy setting, so they have less to misinterpret or share. Try non-confrontation, but if you must say something, stay positive. Open communication is an effective way to stop the spread of gossip.

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