Gossip is one of the many things that can lower workplace productivity. It can also create an environment of mistrust and can damage working relationships. Even if we don’t start the gossip, listening to it, passing it on, or standing idly by while it’s happening, makes us part of the gossip and helps perpetuate it.
When I define gossip, I’m speaking of both positive and negative conversation about another person that is conducted without his or her consent. It’s just as much gossip to talk about a coworker’s promotion as it is to talk about one who is being fired.
Here are some tips to help you avoid the gossip grapevine. Although they’re targeted toward the work environment, they’re just as applicable at home and in other settings.
1. Don’t be a gossip perpetrator.
It seems silly to have to say this, but if no one ever started gossip in the first place, the problem would be eliminated, wouldn’t it? As tempting as it is to share a bit of “news,” good or bad, avoid the temptation. Unless the person you’re talking about has given you express permission to share the information, don’t!
2. Don’t let yourself be pulled into a gossip discussion.
Even if you didn’t start the gossip conversation, simply joining in and even standing by silently is participation. If someone tries to draw you in, simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable talking about Amy when she’s not present,” or, “I don’t think Amy would appreciate people talking about her job status when she’s not here.”
Additionally, when people come to you to “vent” about a third person, you can nicely redirect them by saying, “I can see how frustrated you are about the situation. I think the best way to resolve it would be to talk to Mark directly about the problem.” Then stop talking.
3. Change the subject when gossip begins.
Although not the most assertive way to stop gossip, changing the subject can be a good way to stop gossip and move the conversation onto something else. Not only can it work in one-on-one situations, it’s also an acceptable option when you want to stop gossip in a group setting without directly confronting the person gossiping. However, a simple change in subject isn’t likely to stop someone from gossiping in the long run. Therefore, it’s a good idea to follow up this method with a private conversation with the gossip as outlined in #5 below.
4. Disagree with the gossip by sharing alternative or more positive views.
Most people who gossip are looking for someone who will agree with them. When they come across someone who contradicts their viewpoint, the conversation generally comes to a halt. Simply saying, “I disagree. I find Ray very easy to work with and he’s always met his deadlines when I’ve worked with him,” will likely end the conversation.
5. Confront the gossip perpetrator privately.
Sometimes you might feel that if you’re not directly involved in gossip and are simply overhearing it, you should just stay out of it. However, keeping quiet doesn’t do anything to help stop gossip. Set up a time to talk to the person who is gossiping. Don’t attack. Simply let the person know the damaging impact of gossip on morale and productivity. Try to get the person to see things from the perspective of the person he or she is gossiping about, “If you were Nancy, wouldn’t you prefer it if someone came to you directly with a problem rather than talking about it with others?”
Although it’s rare for people who gossip to admit it, the confrontation itself is often enough to stop the gossip.
6. When the gossip is about you, identify the gossip originator and confront him or her privately.
If you’re the person being gossiped about, you can say, “Carrie, I understand that you might have some concerns about how I’m handling the project. I’d hope if you did, you’d bring them directly to me. Is there anything we need to talk about? I want to do the best job possible.” Then remain silent.
Her response will likely be one of two things, either a denial, or if you’re lucky, some honest input from Carrie. If the response is a denial, the confrontation itself may be enough to stop the gossip. If you’ve done a good job of addressing the issue with Carrie calmly and directly, she might not only open up, but it’s very likely that she e will feel more comfortable bringing her concerns directly to you in the future, rather than sharing them with others.
To learn more about handling gossip and other critical communication skills, check out my book, Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.