For your advice blog I’d sure like to hear your thoughts about workplace gossip.
Gossip is the thing that makes me want to sew my lips and ears shut and it drives me absolutely nuts!
At my present job I work with mostly women and the gossip runs rampant. I vow over and over to stay out of it but get drawn in time and time again.
Sometimes I just want to rant to someone about another person and that’s it. Just rant and then you feel better and then it’s over with. Trust the wrong person though and it turns to gossip.
Sometimes people will lean on my shoulder and tell me horror stories about other people and the things they’ve done. I sympathise and then ……. it turns to gossip. “…… “ Everything is taken out of context and I end up feeling guilty and just horrible.
I could write a book about the pitfalls of gossip but I need advice on how to stay out of it in the first place!
Oh, gossip. The guilty pleasure and pain. I think our entire species loves gossip. And of course, I’ve been in your situation too, because I don’t know that there is anyone alive who hasn’t! And it seems to me that the problem is bigger than just at the workplace. Gossip happens like chain reactions in families too and people seem to thrive off of their ‘forbidden knowledge.’
Like you, I absolutely abhor gossip. It’s almost like a catch-22 – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you don’t participate in gossip, you become the next news, “You know how unfriendly she is….”
I think ranting is normal. We all have a need to get things off our chest. Unfortunately, sometimes the people we talk to are not trustworthy, and there’s not much you can do with that, but you can limit the damage. I’m not totally successful in avoiding gossip, but here are some things I’ve learned along the way to lessen it – and they are all suggestions in changing personal behavior, because you just can’t change anyone else!
1. Keep everything someone says to you confidential, unless it can be viewed as public information. But really try to keep everything to yourself, and that can be hard. In the same line of thinking let the other person know, “Everything you tell me is in confidence, and I will never tell someone else on purpose. I promise you I won’t tell anyone else, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t either.” And stick to it.
I no longer tell people not to gossip, because I tried that, and got branded as ‘unfriendly,’ which was never my intention. Because I wasn’t trying to be seen as unfriendly, I just didn’t want to gossip about people – I had to revise that action. Now, I choose who I rant to, but I also let people rant to me, with confidence that their words stay between us. And until quite recently, I’ve ended up listening more than I’ve talked!
2. Be respectful. Even if something is public knowledge, or about to be common knowledge, you may not want to talk about it anyway. Yes, everyone is going to know soon that Person A and Person B are getting a divorce, but maybe it’s unkind to share that, or maybe Person A wants to share it in their own way.
3. Do no harm. And if you do accidentally share something (I’ve done it!), then try to lessen the impact. Be accountable for your actions. I know we’re not doctors, but I think this is a good lesson in life in general. If, the person you accidentally told it to does not follow your request to keep things between the two of you, go back to the first person and let them know you made a mistake. Normally they actually seem to feel relief that they can talk about it with someone else.
4. Pick who to share confidences with carefully. If you know someone has no ability to keep things to themselves, then try to limit any emotional conversation just with this person. It’s still ok to talk with other people you trust, but trust is really important here.
Finally, I wish gossip didn’t happen. In my own life, I did try to cut out gossip entirely and it was amazing to me how hostile people became towards me. So, I don’t recommend that. What I do recommend is treating others the way you want to be treated per the best of your ability. Being human, you’ll make occasional mistakes, but I believe by taking these steps you are more likely to be treated well when the gossip turns back towards you.
I really wish you luck – being the brunt of gossip is no fun!
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