Gossip or the “office virus”, happens to everyone, regardless of your ranking and almost no workplace is immune from it. In other words, where there are people, there is gossip. How can we be better at managing it? Here are some practical solutions.
As we all experienced at some point during our office careers, this virus called gossip can undermine your morale, start a micro-war and cause major productivity drops. A misunderstanding, a gesture or the wrong email at the wrong time can spark a whole internal crisis within any organization. So what can we do in order to stand still while the storm approaches?
1: Look inward
Inward looking is always harder to practice than outward criticism. In other words, we are all very good at seeing some faults and cracks in the people around us while we are very bad at taking a good look at ourselves first. What kind of leader are you? What kind of person are you? Have you ever questions the way you approach others? Are you actually gossiping about others, sharing funny jokes or rumors with your peers just to kill some time? To understand what is your attitude, and to try to correct it, is possibly the very first step you should take against gossip.
2: You can’t listen if you’re talking
A person that I knew and constantly talked a whole lot just about anything once asked me “You don’t talk too much, do you?” and I bursted into laughter and added “If you wanted me to talk, you would shut up at some point and listen”. This applies to gossiping too. When something bothers us, sharing it with our colleagues and finding people who are willing to listen to you is essential. Gossip often sparks from the fact a rumor didn’t get fixed right away because we were too busy focusing on ourselves and didn’t listen to the issue when it happened. Talk less, try to pay more attention to your surroundings, after all your co-workers are people just like you, and they need someone who’s willing to listen.
3: Don’t shoot the messenger
At some point, somebody will come to you and tell you what is the gossip about. Don’t kill the guy, don’t attack him or her personally because you are in a bad mood or get defensive. As it happens, probably the person who is telling you what’s going on, is doing it in a good faith in order to help you. Of course this is not always the case, but attacking him or her won’t get you any closer to solving the issue, quite the contrary – it will give that person fuel to gossip even more. In other words, stay calm, sit down, let the first rush of hanger fade away, and then calmly try to understand as many details as possible about the gossip, that person is actually a source of information.
4: Sideways or face to face?
If you are put in a spot where you actually know who is the gossiper, well, a whole new world of possibilities opens to you. Of course the first question is how to approach it. Would you go thermonuclear on him or her, or should you take things slow, approaching it sideways? There is no right way to do this but you can pick and choose which situation applies best to your case. Is the gossiper in a higher status or ranking or lower? Measure your actions and words, just in case you want to keep the job. Is the gossiper external to your team? Confront him/her always making them feel that you are not taking it personally and you have no interest in attacking them, don’t let them get defensive on you. Is the gossiper your boss? Well in that case you should tell him/her what you think and quit the job. At times is useful to let things be, especially if the issue is so silly that you really don’t have time to be wasted on it.
5: Confront the issue, not the person
Don’t take it personally, never. When you do confront someone who has been gossiping, you will come across far more professionally if you focus on the issue and behavior rather than on the person. For example, instead of saying, “You are a bad person for gossiping about me,” consider saying, “I am concerned about the gossiping, and I want it to stop.” This way of reacting makes you look better and more professional to anyone else who might hear about it, a fact that can help you politically.
Despite your best attempts, the gossip virus is still there, what you do next? Simple: go deeper and invest some time in asking questions. Collecting more information about the gossip is basic way to scare it away. Ask about details, names, places, times, people involved, sources etc. etc. Like urban legends, gossip often have no legs to sustain them, and by putting some pressure on whoever is talking about it, it will be clear that it was just another myth we really shouldn’t be talking about.
7: Be professional
Think about it, what is a gossip and when is gossip harmful? A gossip is generated by something that happens, or someone that feels envy about someone else. Before the gossip even happens, remember that you are in the office to do a job in the best way possible, and that your life and your job are not the same thing. Giving people reasons to gossip about, sharing too much, showing your foolish sides to your co-workers is possibly a risky move. Some of them will laugh, others will most likely use it against you. So be professional, do not give people reasons to gossip about.