Dealing with gossiping co-workers
Gossip is defined as rumour mongering and idle talk that is centred on a person’s personal affairs. Gossip will often be untrue or exaggerated information about a person. Office gossip can be taken as an attack on a colleague by another, often caused by conflicts. It can also be offhand comments that highlight a person’s activity and has no co-relation with his/ her productivity such as “She takes too much tea.” Gossiping co-workers can kill your morale and even ruin your office relations.
It is also important to note that gossip is always present in any social environment, including but not limited to the office.The practice is, however, unacceptable, owing to its negative impact in the workplace. Rumour mongering can potentially lead to poor working relationships and loss of productivity so it is important to know how to deal with it so that it does not interfere with your job. Here are strategies on how to deal with gossiping coworkers.
Identifying office gossip
Before you can handle any negative rumours, it is best to accurately identify it, its source and participants. Gossip can be very indistinct and it takes a keen eye and ear to identify gossip amongst co-workers. Usually, subtle behaviour changes will be enough clues but it is important to know the most accurate signs so that you do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself.
- People begin staring at you
Human nature is such that people want to get every bit of information about a person of interest. As such, gossip, especially negative or personal information about you attracts stares as people try to read the information they have about you, from your body language.
So, if you suspect that your co-workers are gossiping you, you are likely to notice unnecessary attention on you. For example, you could be passing by on your way to your desk and suddenly people turn and look at you for long with unusual interest. This is good communication about the possibility of an existing and active, negative rumour about you.
- Conversation stops when you are close
Your co-workers are at the water dispenser are having an animated conversation. You walk by on your way to your manager’s desk and suddenly, there is silence. Then when you are a safe distance away, the conversation begins with occasional glances thrown in your direction.
That could mean many things but it is definitely an indication that you are the subject of unflattering conversation. When your co-workers are gossiping you, you will notice animated conversation around the office but no one will be interested in looping you in.
- Off-hand remarks about certain aspects of your life
Some co-workers find it hard to keep gossip away from you. They also try to poke you in a bid to get your comments or irk you and judge the authenticity of the gossip based on your reactions. For example, if there are rumours that you are dating a certain colleague, a co-worker may ask you “Where is Ms X? I heard you might know her whereabouts in and out of the office.”
Such remarks show that there are rumours going around about your relationship with that colleague and they may not be work related.
Handling the gossip
According to communication experts, a gossip is a negative form of communication that strains relationships. Gossip is often an unnecessary distraction and how you handle it paves way for future engagements. Office gossip can often be ignored into oblivion if it is baseless but if it puts your reputation on the line, it is best to address it tactfully.
- Understand what caused and propagated the gossip
All rumours have a source. It is, therefore, important to analyse the gossip and see if there are certain aspects of your behaviour which may have prompted it. This gives you a chance to change any behaviour that may also be impacting you negatively at the office.
For example, if you shared your personal information with a colleague and this became the source of unflattering stories about you in the office, it would be advisable to keep such information out of the office in future. This also teaches you who can be trusted with confidential information in future and who is to be kept away from such information.
- Have a clear line that separates your professional and personal lives
We appreciate that you have a life in the office and one that is separate but equally important outside the office. It is also healthy to have good social ties with your colleagues as this makes the workplace enjoyable.
However, if you form the habit of sharing bits and pieces of personal information with your colleagues, you might be setting yourself up for office gossip as some colleagues may not know how to keep confidential information to themselves. On the other hand, some colleagues may use the information shared in confidentiality to tarnish your name or try to gain an unfair advantage over you if there is, for example, a promotion involved.
Some people also have occasional drinks and weekend getaways with their colleagues. This is a good way of bonding. However, it is wise to watch what you discuss during such sessions as this information may be shared in the office. As such, it is advisable to determine how far your office relationships should go into your personal life.
- When to face the source of the gossip
All gossip has an origin and person who instigates and spreads the gossip. While you might be annoyed, avoid emotional confrontations. Seek the person’s audience in private and politely express your displeasure. For example, you may say “It has come to my attention that you have been sharing information about my private life with colleagues. I do not appreciate this unprofessionalism so kindly refrain from such behaviour since I respect you as my colleague.”
While addressing your displeasure with the gossip, do not give room for defensive behaviour as this will be counter-productive. Ensure that you communicate effectively but do not offend the instigator or become emotional. Addressing the source of the gossip also lets the person know that you are aware of their activities and this deters the person from such behaviour in future.
While confronting the source of the gossip, it is also good to ask the person to help kill the gossip. This is a way of extending an olive branch and giving the person an opportunity to correct the situation. For example, you can say to the person, “In light of the unbecoming behaviour, I would like you to help me end this rumour in the best way you can.”
- Do not get emotional about it
Rumours can be devastating and annoying. However, when you confront the rumour mongers with your emotions, he/she is likely to get defensive and this is counter productive. Face the source of the gossip with an open mind and express your displeasure in a calm manner. This will eliminate any likelihood of new gossip.
- When to ignore the gossip
One of the most effective ways of getting rid of baseless rumours is by paying no attention in the first place. Gossip with no serious impact on your career and professional relationships tends to last for a short time and then go away on its own. So, do not stress about it. Let it run its course and all those involved will quickly move on. A rumour usually gets validation from your reaction and if you deem it baseless, then you can ignore it and people will soon forget about it.
- Develop and maintain open communication lines
This is especially helpful to those in management. It is advisable to ensure that colleagues can come to you when they are in doubt of anything. On the other hand, ensure that you communicate openly and truthfully about situations and happenings in the office. This way, you create a gossip-free environment as those who start and propagate rumours do not take advantage of a poor communication system. Your colleagues can also comfortably approach you with any issues for clarification and this ensures that gossip does not thrive.
In conclusion, evolutionary psychologists say that a gossip is a form of bonding and this means that people will always try to share information about other people as a way of establishing and solidifying social relationships. Negative rumours in the office can, however, lead to strained relationships and injured reputations. As such, it is best to handle office gossip with care so that professionalism can prevail.