Shut Down Gossip

2009 November 3

Water Cooler.
Creative Commons License photo credit: paulswansen

Gossip. Some of us take part more than others, but we all contribute a little from time to time.

In the workplace, gossip can get really mean. A former coworker was recently telling me about attempts to undermine her that came from others in the office who saw that she was away from her desk while her boss was out of town. (The truth was that she’d had a doctor appointment, and had emailed her boss about it in advance.)

But it doesn’t stop there. Office gossip can trump up single instances of a behavior into a gossip-worthy pattern: maybe someone who’s having a tough morning is observed stepping out for a 5-minute fresh air break and suddenly that person is suspected of having a pattern of idling. Or maybe someone is observed taking the last cup of coffee without starting a new pot because he or she is in a hurry to a meeting, and suddenly that person is the culprit whenever the pot is empty.

Whatever the behavior, gossip has a way of turning trivial events into something sinister in the retelling over time. There is also, according to an article in this morning’s New York Times, a tendency for gossip to grow due to the pressure to contribute to it:

The earlier studies found that once someone made a negative comment about a person who wasn’t there, the conversation would get meaner unless someone immediately defended the target. Otherwise, among both adults and teenagers, the insults would keep coming because there was so much social pressure to agree with the others.

You know what our suggestion is: be the one to shut it down. We’ve talked before about how important it is to empathize with others around you; great accomplishments are rarely made without true collaboration, and for true collaboration, you need at least reasonable compassion and empathy for those you’re working with. But nothing breaks down trust and creates barriers to collaboration like gossip. Shut it down. Move on. Foster a culture of empathy and understanding. If something needs to be communicated to someone, talk to the person directly or communicate with his or her manager if need be. But no good will come from spreading gossip around the office.

Besides, you’ll only be making it more likely that one day, office gossip will be spreading about you.

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One Response leave one →
  1. 2009 November 5
    laurie permalink

    Yes. Shorter: What goes around, comes around.

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