Office Gossip? You Have Better Things to Do

By Robert Half on January 8, 2020 at 12:00pm

It happens to all of us from time to time: You’re minding your own business, and then suddenly, you’re swept up in a wave of office gossip. 

Maybe you have a particular coworker who’s the office busybody, or you’re surrounded by whispering colleagues. The chatter could focus on organizational changes or a coworker's personal life.

What qualifies as office gossip? A useful distinction to consider is whether you’re talking about someone with the intention of being helpful or harmful. It’s one thing to bring up the fact that Jane has missed some work due to her divorce and that you can’t believe her spouse left her. It’s quite another to say, “I know Jane is going through a rough time. Why don’t we ask her if we can pitch in on one of her projects or see if she’d like to go out to lunch this week?” 

Another way to know whether something qualifies as office gossip is to think about whether it’s something you’d say to the person’s face. If not, it’s likely gossip.  

With these distinctions in mind, here are five tips to remove yourself from the gossip-go-round.

1. Excuse yourself and walk away

When the office gossip heads in your direction, the simplest solution is to leave the conversation. Excuse yourself by citing pressing work obligations. The same goes for when the office snoop corners you. You’re at work, after all, so just say, “I really have to get back to my desk.” No one can object to that reasoning.

2. Don’t engage with office gossip

Abstain when you can’t walk away. You may be in a meeting or at lunch with colleagues when a juicy bit of melodrama arises. But just because you’re present, doesn’t mean you must participate. The simple act of not responding lets your coworkers know that you’re not interested in contributing to hearsay. If pressed, you can always say you don’t have an opinion.

3. Change the subject

Office gossip may seem appealing, but furthering it can be incredibly hurtful. Help keep the tone of your workplace upbeat by changing the subject when you hear negative remarks.

There is such a thing as positive gossip, so steer the conversation toward a happier topic, such as the birth of a coworker’s baby or how well a team member did on a recent project. If all else fails, you can always mention a funny cat video you saw online.

4. Try to resolve the problem

It would be nice if it never happened, but sometimes the whispers relate to you in some way. If someone in your office has a beef with you and makes it known to everyone except you, don’t let the situation fester. Approach the coworker and try to resolve the issue. Let it be known you’re aware of what’s been said and you’d like to find a solution. With any luck, you’ll flex your communication skills, receive an apology and put a stop to the rumors. 

Read about 10 other bad habits of annoying coworkers

5. Take it to the top

When office gossip turns particularly vicious or focuses on damaging rumors of layoffs, as an example, it may be best to take it to a manager. Don’t worry. You can do so without looking like the office tattletale. Your office may even have a workplace gossip policy. You can inform your boss of the information without pointing fingers. Try this: “I thought you might want to know that people are saying X.” Management will then have an opportunity to address the problem, dispel idle talk and reassure a worried workforce.

Gossip at work can cause problems, reduce morale and lead to serious conflict. The next time you see the Rumor Express galloping in your direction, follow the above strategies to sidestep trouble.

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