"Did you hear the latest about Rhonda? Last week she...."
And so it goes. Typical office conversation. Gossip. It happens in every workplace and in every family. For some reason, we just love to talk about others. Perhaps it makes us feel better about ourselves, and maybe it reassures us that no one is perfect. Whatever the case, it can make for some pretty interesting lunch conversation.
Until that conversation is about us, that is. When we're the subject of office gossip, it no longer seems like harmless entertainment.
It is unrealistic to think that you will never be the subject of gossip. And when you are, it may not be in your best interests to ignore it. Because occasionally that gossip will be damaging to your reputation, whether the information is accurate or not.
So what do you do? Do you confront the gossips? Do you deny? Do you ignore?
Ultimately it is your choice; but you need to recognize that there will be consequences for any approach you take. Think through the potential consequences of all your approaches before you take action.
When the gossip is about my personal life (such as my kids, my money, my vacation spots), I tend to ignore it. If the gossip is damaging to my professional reputation (such as alleged inappropriate relationships with co-workers, excessive alcohol, bad behaviour in a professional environment), then I will address it.
Here are some tips to keep in mind about gossip::
- If you are going to have a conversation with the perceived 'gossip' be sure to have that conversation in private. No one else needs to be part of the discussion.
- Be sure that you don't attack, accuse or intimidate the person.
- Do not bring others into the conversation ("Marlene told me that you said...") as it will derail the point of the conversation.
- Be clear on why you are approaching this person. What is your purpose? Is it to have the gossip stopped altogether, or to correct the information? Be sure to have your intent in mind.
- Be clear on what you expect to happen as a result of your conversation.
For example, here's what not to say:
"Caroline, you and I need to talk. Marlene told me that you were spreading gossip about me around the office. I want it to stop -- you have no idea what you're talking about and Marlene isn't the only one who told me you are doing it, either. You stop talking about me or I'm going to Human Resources tomorrow. Do you understand?"
Here's what you should say:
"Caroline, I'm hearing some gossip about me that is damaging to my professional reputation. I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I don't know if you've heard the rumours going around about me or not, but they're really disturbing. If you hear of anyone talking about me, I would appreciate it if you would ask them to stop. "
Yes, this is a very passive approach to the gossip, but it is likely to be far more effective than if you take the first approach and go in guns blazing.
If the gossip continues, you may choose to escalate the matter a bit, or take a different approach:
"Caroline, rumour has it that I'm the subject of some hurtful gossip recently. The rumour also states that you've had an active part in spreading this gossip. I can't prove anything and sometimes gossip is just not true, as you know. I'm just going to ask that if you have any questions about what happened, that you come directly to me rather than talking to others about me."
If your professional reputation is being compromised, you have to do something about the gossip. Once you've taken care of that, make it clear that you don't want to participate (even just by listening) to any gossip from that point on.