Talking Too Much! How to Handle the Office Gossip
You might have heard about this person before you even met them. Maybe right after you were introduced, they decided to “tell you how things go around here.” Ten, twenty, or even sixty minutes later you realize that you met the office gossip. Whether you work in a more traditional office setting, a laboratory, or in an academic environment, there are usually one or a few employees that enjoy spreading stories, information, and details about other people. Unfortunately, most of these talkative co-workers don’t always verify the accuracy of the information they discuss. Reports spread quickly, and before you know it everyone seems to be talking about the same juicy story.
Many people like talking to a colleague with a tendency to gossip because they get to gather information about everyone else. Some individuals like melodrama and feel a sense of excitement just listening. However, most professionals aren’t happy when they become the primary subject of the gossiper. Being the target of gossip in the workplace can negatively affect your reputation, character, and promotional opportunities. Here are four keys to working with the office gossip.
Don’t share your personal or professional life
Often, gossiping colleagues have a way of building rapport or relationships quickly. They might come across as trying to help others or openly share personal details about themselves. This concern and/or connection is usually not genuine because they are using others to find out information. Once a gossiper has intimate details that many don’t know, they often take pleasure in telling others or being a go-to resource. As a precaution, don’t share any of your confidential personal or professional information. This might sound obvious, but most gossipers are charmers who are skilled at getting what they want.
Follow up on / challenge their assumptions
If you happen to be around a co-worker who is gossiping, one way to make them aware of their behavior is to challenge their assumptions. You can do that tactfully in a variety of ways. You might ask, “How do you know that?” Or you could ask, “Where did you hear that?” It's common for gossipers to take one thing that is true and create unsubstantiated stories or scenarios based on those details. Another follow up question is, “How do you know that to be true?” These questions get the gossiping co-worker to stop and reflect on what they are saying.
Discuss the facts
Before you believe what you hear in the workplace, it’s a good idea to verify the details. Discussing established facts can be productive, giving you more insight on how to improve your performance, and what pitfalls to watch out for. When talking to someone who is a known gossiper, make sure you stay focused on certain topics have been substantiated. Only discuss things you are sure of and stay away from conversations about co-workers who aren’t physically present. You don’t want a discussion with the gossiper to be misconstrued as you talking about others behind their back.
Limit your time
Spending a lot of time around the office gossip can be draining of your time and energy. There’s always more they could talk about, including any drama unfolding at the current moment. This can take you away from the primary goal of doing your best work. Being around a co-worker who gossips can also cause others to assume you are just like them or be guilty by association. This is not to say that you should be rude or ignore the gossiper, but to proceed with caution in your interactions with them.
Most workplaces have a known gossiper - that person who enjoys telling what they heard, saw, or experienced to others. While finding out personal details about your co-workers can be interesting, if you’re too involved in gossip it can affect your growth potential within an organization. In general, it’s best not to share your professional or personal information with the office gossip. In the event you hear something that sounds very off base, challenging their assumptions with questions can be helpful. You can further protect your reputation by only discussing facts and limiting your time with gossiping co-workers. How will you deal with the next colleague who comes to you with gossip?
Porschia Parker is a Certified Coach, Professional Resume Writer, and Founder of Fly High Coaching. She empowers ambitious professionals and motivated executives to add $10K on average to their salaries.