OFFICE GOSSIP IS DRIVING ME NUTS

December 21, 2014

Advice Column Dear Stasia

Dear Stasia: I don’t know if it’s due to the holidays and the year is coming to an end, but the gossip in my office is driving me nuts! I don’t know how to handle the office politics anymore? It’s really getting my spirits down. I think people are acting nuts because bonuses will be handed out soon and there is so much gossip about people, positions, and promotions. How do I handle this negativity? Thanks, Melissa

Dear Melissa: Your year-end observations are correct. The idea of a co-worker getting a bigger bonus or winning the promotion can bring out the worst in people. Gossip begins out of insecurities, doubts, and stress which can become a pervasive issue quickly.

How I see it, you have three ways to handle office gossip. One, don’t engage, focus on your work, be good to others, and don’t be part of the gossip ‘pack’. Two, if you find yourself at the water cooler, grabbing coffee, or sitting at a table where gossip begins, simply excuse yourself. Three, use positive talk. If something negative is said about someone else, reply with a positive response. They’ll get confused and stop gossiping to you!

Melissa, when you know who gossips in an office, you quickly learn who you can trust, and who you can’t. Good luck and I hope these tips help you navigate the office gossip a bit easier.

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I am not sure that I agree with these all of these tips, apart from the first. Politely excusing oneself, or discreetly leaving, are good ways to go when gossip is happening.

The problem with going to a boss, or HR, is that often they are going to want names, and then you are in a very tricky situation. If you don’t give names, you may appear non-compliant to your boss, even a bit belligerant, and also, make her concerned about your true motives for telling about the gossip. I have found that negative gossip flourishes in unhealthy work places to begin with, and these exist usually because of poor management and poor leadership in the first place. So going to the boss is likely to be problematic as it is an implicit criticism of their leadership. If you do give names, then you risk entering into a situation whereby you could be revealed to your co-workers as someone who is not to be trusted, and used as a pawn in office politics. So, no, I personally would never advise going to a higher-up unless you were confident that it would not be turned against you.

Finally, if you have positive things to say about people then say it directly to them. Where gossip is concerned, it’s important to be very careful, regardless of the content. Making the occasional positive comment about someone’s abilities or accomplishments is not a bad thing, but indulging in a conversation about them, even if it is positive, is another matter. It also can fuel strange alliances and jealousy in a workplace, depending on what is going on overall. Basically, I think it’s best to keep all opinions about co-workers to oneself, and only share privately with a trusted friend outside of work. There are many ways to show kindness and compassion to one’s colleagues without talking about them when they aren’t present.

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