We're a culture of gossips. Celebrity gossip magazines bombard us at the grocery, and with friends and coworkers who go status-update-crazy on Facebook, we know more personal information about people than ever before.
We have plenty to talk about, and "Hey, did you hear about…" is how we begin conversations all the time, including at work.
Admittedly, what comes through the grapevine is sometimes important information for us to have, but most of the time, it's just plain gossip, and gossip is often toxic to the atmosphere at work.
What is gossip?
Gossip is talking about someone's private business to someone else.
It usually has origins in either confidential information or rumors and it goes beyond conveying information into the realm of speculation or judgment.
Gossip also has the intent of pulling other people into the topic or affecting their opinion of the person or people being talked about.
Gossip is more than just word of mouth.
Word of mouth, a.k.a. the grapevine, is a good way of disseminating positive information, and it's a good source for hearing about things that might affect you. For instance, the grapevine might tell you that there are rumblings that the company is being sold or your boss is being promoted so that her position will be open, and those are good things to know.
The problem is when information turns into gossip—meaning talking about or passing along someone's personal business when it's really none of our business. That's when problems arise for the company and the person being gossiped about.
Gossip undermines morale and employee happiness.
Companies with a gossip problem also have an employee morale problem because it affects time, teamwork and productivity.
When a company encourages, condones or allows gossip at work, employees can be affected by the rumors and unconfirmed information.
Gossip can damage and derail your career.
People who participate in gossip can form cliques, often lose their feeling of camaraderie with other coworkers, develop a distrust of management, and they risk being branded as a gossiper. All of these things have a detrimental effect on your career.
Gossip damages your sense of well-being, too.
Every time you participate in negative gossip, you put yourself into a negative mindset, which changes your experience of your job. In other words, you just make yourself miserable.
You can learn to avoid gossip.
If you work in a gossip culture, or have fallen into the gossip habit, you can retrain yourself not to engage in conversations about topics that are not your business.
Here are some tips for minimizing the negative effects of gossip at work:
- Be wary of people who gossip. If someone will gossip with you about others, you can be assured that they will gossip with others about you.
- Show you can be trusted by keeping confidential things confidential. It can be tempting to share the latest dirt to show that you're in the know about, but resist the impulse.
- Learn to deflect gossip conversations before you get engaged. When someone wants to pull you into gossip, cut them off or distract them before they can get into it by telling them you're busy, or changing the subject. Do it with a smile, and after a few times, they'll stop trying to pull you in.
- Don't give people anything to gossip about. Set some personal boundaries and limits to what you'll share with coworkers, particularly if you're in a gossip-filled culture. Others may not have your sense of caution about gossip, so if it's not something you want everyone to know, and if it were public, you'd be embarrassed, then you're better off not sharing it at work.
- Don't pass gossip on. Even if you're 100% sure that something you hear is true, think twice about who needs to know what you're about to share. If someone doesn't need to know it, then either don't share it or pass on only the important factual information without offering opinion or commentary.
- Never gossip about bosses or higher-ups in the company. It may seem natural to go air complaints or disagreements about policies or decisions with a coworker, but it's almost guaranteed to backfire when word gets back (and it probably will).
- If you must, then vent about gossip you hear outside of work. Sometimes we need to let off a little steam, or to think out loud to figure out how we feel about a situation. That's fine, as long as you find a way to do it outside of work. Ask a trustworthy friend or supportive spouse to listen to you and promise not to share anything you say.
- Notice how bad it feels to gossip. You'll feel different about yourself when you give up the gossip habit. When we gossip, we usually feel some blend of guilt, frustration, anger, jealousy, judgment, resentment, complaint, scorn or outrage. Right? I don't know about you, but these are not pleasant emotions. Giving up gossip means avoiding stirring up these feelings.
It does take a little time to adjust to a commitment to stop gossiping, and a little (or maybe a lot of) discipline to avoid slipping back into the gossip habit. (I speak from experience.) But it's worth it because it makes such a big difference in how you feel about yourself, and how others feel about you, too.
So take the challenge, and give up toxic gossip, for the sake of your health and your career.
More career success tips:
- 7 Things to Stop Doing at Work
- Handshake 101: Put Your Best Hand Forward
- 13 Signs It's Time for a New Job