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Handling Office Gossip Without Harming Your Reputation or Relationships

We all love the feeling of being included and having personal relationship with our coworkers. Having those kinds of relationships makes work more enjoyable and can reduce office stress, but, when folks in your office start talking about other employees, it’s time to make a decision- do you get involved or do you shut it down?

Spoiler alert, the answer is always to shut it down.

Office gossip is poison to careers, and not just the careers of the person everyone is whispering about. Being involved in spreading gossip or playing any role in keeping it alive can cost you your reputation and make you seem like, well, a gossip and drama lover to others who may have a say in your future at the company. Plus, if someone- especially frequently- is coming to you with ‘the tea’ on someone else in the office, they may very well be doing the same thing to you behind your back. Shutting down conversations like this can be hard, and if done wrong, can cost you some relationships that you may need, so here are some quick and easy ways to shut down office gossip without ruining your reputation or your relationships.

If the gossip is centered around someone having an affair, ‘sleeping their way to the top’, or the like, replied to the gossip with comments like “I really hope that isn’t true- do you know if it is true? Did they directly tell you that it is happening or did you see it?”. With a topic so salacious and harmful, approaching the gossip with an aura of curiosity while also having the undertone of shutting it down until it is verified, you can turn the conversation from a gossip session, into the other parties really reflecting on if they should be talking about what they’re saying.

When the gossip becomes about someone else’s performance or intelligence- (ex: “She is way too dumb for this job”), it can be really easy to dive into the conversation and hear how horrible Becky is at taking notes or designing graphics, especially if you’re frustrated with her work, too. So look at it from the perspective of Becky, how would you feel if you were just trying your best to do you job and others are smack talking you instead of helping you grow? Lean into the gossip conversation with things such as “Do you think she is just having a bad week? Has anyone checked in on her?” “Maybe one of us should go help her with her work and show her the ropes” or even asking them “Did you offer to show her how to do it right? Maybe she just needs some quick help”. Saying comments like that helps steer the gossip into feedback and can create a team dynamic, and also gives you the reputation of a leader, team player, and problem solver.

Gossip centered around the company and it’s future- such as if they’re downsizing, shutting down, laying off teams, or more- causes a lot of panic and worry among the masses, and by listening to it, spreading it, or even tolerating it, you’re part of the hysteria creation. If this is brought to your attention by a colleague, simply asking them where they heard it from and how true it is (like you should do for all gossip) and following it up with “I’m going to wait until they make an official announcement on that before I do or say anything, I don’t want to cause any panic or worry” is the best way to shut it down and let others know exactly what they need to do, too.

Overall, regardless of what the gossip is, adding “I don’t think this is something that we should be talking about, this could end poorly for any of us if management hears” into the conversation at the end sets a clear intent of not wanting anyone to get in trouble, and not wanting to talk about the gossip anymore. Never be afraid to go to leadership if the gossip won’t stop and it becomes a distraction to anyone in the workplace, most companies have a gossip/ethics policy in place for handling situations like this, and the last thing you want is to be on the receiving end of an ethics review. Lastly, whenever a ‘juicy story’ is passed on to you, stop it in it’s tracks, be where the story goes to die, and don’t keep spreading it either. There is always the chance that the gossipers don’t appreciate your comments or criticism, and may not want to keep being ‘personable’ with you afterward, but just remember- it is better to surround yourself with people that talk about ideas, instead of other people.


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