How to Handle Common Gossip Girls and Guys

It seems every office has at least one person who thrives on gossip about company activity and staff. Here are some common types of chatterboxes and tips for balancing the need for camaraderie with maintaining your professionalism.

Despite its reputation, office gossip isn’t all bad. In fact, casual talk and low-key information-sharing -- about everything from the upcoming company retreat to potential promotions -- can actually help coworkers bond. It can even boost worker productivity: Chatting with coworkers can help relieve stress and forge office friendships, both of which lead to greater satisfaction and better performance on the job.

But sometimes, this kind of discussion can enter into destructive territory. Damaging rumors, critical comments and spiteful back-biting can fuel conflict between coworkers and turn an office into an unpleasant, nerve-wracking place where it’s difficult to get any real work done.

This negative form tends to originate with certain types of people. Here are some strategies to help you handle some common types of office gossips:

Mr. Loose Lips: In a candid moment, you confess to a coworker that you’re concerned about a fellow employee’s sometimes-rude phone manners with customers and clients. You told your colleague to keep your concerns to himself, but before too long, you hear through the grapevine that everyone’s talking about your “confidential” discussion, and it’s not hard to figure out who spilled the beans.

In the future, stick to neutral topics such as business projects and assignments. Don’t talk about coworkers or their performance, and by all means, avoid discussing sensitive aspects of your personal life.

Ms. Special Agent: Everyone’s been debating about the branch manager opening. Word has it that a candidate has been selected, but nothing official has been announced. Ms. Special Agent is on the case to learn more, and she can’t wait to share what she uncovers.

This type of office gossip is one of the hardest to ignore, mainly because it’s so tempting to debate different scenarios, especially when the topic concerns something that you, too, are wondering about. However, it’s best to be neutral about upcoming changes and not play along.

Mr. Double-Cross: This type may be the most destructive of all. He plays both sides, saying negative things about someone to you, and then turning around and criticizing you to that person. The challenge is that you don’t know you’re dealing with Mr. Double-Cross until you have a bad experience with him, and by that time, it’s too late to avoid repercussions.

You can minimize the damage, though. If you’ve had a run-in with Mr. Double-Cross, find a quiet time and place and calmly confront him. You probably won’t change his behavior, but you won’t be an easy target again. In the future, make a particular effort to avoid making sarcastic remarks or complaints, which can potentially be used against you.

Ms. TMI: You’ve barely even walked in the door when Ms. Too-Much-Information sidles up to you and starts talking about all the personal and business gossip circulating through the office that morning.

Ms. TMI loves to discuss all the latest rumors with whomever’s willing to listen, and she rarely notices the nonverbal cues that you’re not interested. So, the best way to handle her is to wait for a pause in the conversation, then quickly change the subject. You also can politely explain that you’re facing a tight deadline or working on a difficult project. Do this often enough, and Ms. TMI will eventually get the hint.

What are your own experiences dealing with these types of challenging coworkers? Share them below.

Related Articles: