I was recently asked by a very observant colleague “How do you handle gossip in the workplace?” She was growing increasingly frustrated and demoralized whenever she participated in meetings or discussions where others began to gossip about other coworkers, colleagues and managers – not even executives were spared the verbal lashing!
The most frustrating part for her is perhaps knowing that when she was absent from these calls or meetings, she was the victim of their verbal onslaught. After all, “if it’s being said about someone else, it’s probably being said about you”.
I’m sure everyone has dealt with this at some point during their career; some may have even participated in it so it’s fair to say that regardless of what we do people will not stop gossiping.
This doesn’t mean that we should become hopeless, give up and accept this reality. At the same time, I am not so naive as to suggest that you should disengage from every discussion that includes some form of gossip because 1) this will not stop gossip from happening, and 2) it will quickly alienate you from your colleagues and will only promote this habit from happening behind your back.
Instead when you hear your colleague(s) gossip about someone in the office, try to balance the discussion by pointing out something positive about that individual. For example, if you heard your colleagues complain about Susan and how she’s perpetually late getting to the office, you might want to say “Yea, I definitely noticed that but I know that Susan drives her kids to school in the morning and commutes in to work, she’s also in the office very late after everyone’s left for the day.”
By saying that, you’ve acknowledged the reason of their gossip (Susan being late) but you’ve countered with a comment that perhaps makes it harder for them to continue gossiping about Susan’s lateness.
But let’s be fair, some times we may not have anything substantial to defend our colleagues with, we may not know enough about them or we may find that the gossip has some sort of merit. In this scenario I would acknowledge that the behavior is “out of character” and that perhaps “they are experiencing some difficulties lately”. This comment essentially says “I know my colleague did something to cause some frustration or anger or disappointment, but I am not ready to write them off and discount their character just yet.”
Remember that it is never beneficial to engage in gossip no matter how justified you maybe, it may endear you to a certain group of people, it may even help you vent but it doesn’t solve the problem and in doing so you are always chipping away at your own character. In the end you have the choice to raise the moral standard of those around you or to go with the flow hoping that one day you are not the target.