How to deal with workplace gossip

It is natural to want to feel that you belong at work. We spend a large part of the week with colleagues and, even for the most hard-working, it is hard to avoid talking about personal matters. However, there is a difference between sharing stories of private lives with colleagues considered to be friends and talking about other people’s private lives when we really have no right to do so. If you often feel uncomfortable at work because of the gossip that is going on around you, it is time to think about how you can deal with it.

When you first start a new job, it can be particularly tempting to become involved in the gossip that is going on in your workplace because you want to be accepted by your colleagues, particularly those who seem to be the heart and soul of the office. However, don’t be tempted to plunge straight in. Bide your time and be friendly without getting too involved. Before long, you will have figured out who can be trusted and who can’t. Gravitate towards those you can trust – in the long run, you will be much happier.

If it is impossible to avoid those that gossip – because you share an office, for example – then try to take as neutral an approach as possible. When someone shares a piece of gossip with you, then smile politely and say something that cannot be construed as taking sides, then try to change the subject, or suddenly become involved in some work that just can’t wait. Hopefully, the gossip will soon take the hint and will avoid gossiping to you, without shutting you out of office happenings completely.

There is a need to be particularly careful if the gossip is someone of relative importance in the office. He or she could be the boss, or someone who has been in the office for a very long time and could theoretically make things rather difficult for you. In cases like this, rather than give in and join in with them, make sure that your work is as exemplary as possible and that you don’t share any particularly personal information with anyone. This way, they will have nothing bad to say about you even if they don’t like the fact that you don’t join in with their gossip.

If you unwittingly become a target of gossip, then try to stay as calm as possible. You may be tempted to find the source of the gossip and give them a peace of your mind; however, this could just make you look very petty. The best thing to do, at least initially, is to keep your head down. Get on with your job and pretend you aren’t concerned with what people are saying. If the situation continues, then speak to a colleague that you feel relatively close to and tell them the truth of the situation. Hopefully, they will spread the word and everyone will realise that the gossip was speaking out of turn.

Most gossip is petty and can be largely ignored. In some cases, gossip can get out of hand and can make life very difficult for the person concerned. If that person is you, then you should consider speaking to your boss or another superior. When gossiping turns nasty, it is a form of bullying and you most certainly shouldn’t have to put up with it. If another person is being targetted, let them know that you are there to listen. They may not want you to become involved, but knowing someone else is backing them up may just be the support that they need.

Ultimately, you go to your workplace to carry out your job and you should make this your priority. If other people choose to make talking about other people the highlight of their day, then that is their prerogative. You, however, have the right not to join in with them.