Gossip at work is unavoidable. Human beings are naturally curious about each other and enjoy talking. In fact, harmless gossip is useful. The 'Grapevine' provides valuable information about promotions, new clients, upcoming projects, and recent hires. Facilitating good gossip helps you stay informed and gives you a chance to capitalize on opportunities. Negative gossip (untruths, accusations, or taking credit for someone else's idea) harms people. Whether the harm is intention or not, it is unethical and can cause great damage to both the victim and rumormonger's professional reputation. Bottom line on malignant gossip: Avoid it. Here are some tips for handling the vicious rumor mill:
- Protect yourself from harmful gossip by drawing a clear line between work and personal lives. Avoid giving detailed answers about income, sexuality, politics and personal relationships.
- If you become the subject of damaging gossip, confront it. Find the source and privately set the record straight. Firmly but without anger, ask the person to please refrain from spreading rumors. Even if they deny it, they will know they are caught and will stop. If the rumors do continue, confront the source in public. Let everyone hear you clarify the truth.
- If you are invited to participate in malevolent or injurious gossip, tactfully but resolutely state that you don't want to hear the details of someone's private life and excuse yourself. The same applies to the 'stoning session' when a group viciously criticizes one person's behavior. Do not participate. If you have a problem with another person, talk to that person about the issue. Do not vent to co-workers. It is nearly guaranteed the person you are complaining about will hear your complaints from someone else and you will have no control over how or what they hear. If you need to vent, find a safe person away from the work environment: a spouse, counselor, or friend.
- Simply sitting quietly while other people spread malicious rumors makes you a collaborator. Be brave, confront it, and then leave the situation.
Most gossip at work is harmless and some of it can be professionally useful. Learning to facilitate good gossip can give you a professional edge. Participating in unethical and harmful gossip will destroy your reputation it is in your best interest to avoid it at all costs!