Have you ever had a workplace that was completely gossip free? Yeah, right, of course not. Gossip seems to be an unavoidable product of socially interconnected people talking amongst themselves. In the broadest of terms, gossip is defined as anything said about a person when they aren’t around. The most infamous (and, unfortunately, common) form of gossip is malicious. This isn’t always the case though; sometimes gossip can be a positive force. It is not always easy to know just how to respond to gossip.
The number one rule of the grapevine is to question everything. There may be a kernel of truth to most gossip, but things can easily spin out of control and become mangled. It’s a good idea to confirm that what you’ve heard is true before you pass it on (or, when in doubt DON’T SAY ANYTHING). This precaution will help keep your reputation in good regards. Remember, though, that gossip tends to trickle around and alter from one telling to the next (did you play that game when you were a kid? Sit in a circle, whisper something in someones ear, wait for it to come back to you, then see how different it became?). This distorting effect can make gossip difficult to rely on.
There are times when you may want to actively engage gossip- to spread the word about your success on a recent project, for example. Although gossip can be a fast communication method, you should always (even with positive gossip) proceed with caution. You never know what details might be added or removed. Refrain from spreading the latest tidbit if you have any doubts over it.
If you’re office is suffering under the rule of a gossip queen (or king), the best solution is to simply confront this person. Don’t be violent or mean, rather provide them with an ear, ironically, to which they can say what’s actually bothering them. The majority of gossip is about getting attention and, often, there’s a deeper issue at the heart of things. Ask your resident gossip what’s really going on and, hopefully, you’ll get an honest response. Either way, it’s worth mentioning to them the stress their antics are putting on you and the office. If conditions don’t improve, consider telling someone higher up. Be aware though that this news isn’t likely to travel through the grapevine too well. Make sure, then, that if you choose to rat out the gossip, you have the correct source and the rumors are truly defamatory.
Likewise, if you’re planning to take a cue from Machiavelli and build your own gossip throne in order to get ahead, remember that tracking the source of everything in a smaller environment (like an office) can be pretty easy. If found out, not only will your coworkers feel betrayed and disdainful, there could be serious legal repercussions. Defamation lawsuits may be presented to anyone who diffuses lies about a person verbally, transcriptually, or online.
With a little effort, you can also avoid the entire circus altogether. To minimize the amount of gossip you’re exposed to, try listening to music at your desk (at a non-disruptive volume low enough for you to still hear the phone ring). You might also want to try stopping the few rumors you do hear. If someone says something out-of-line about a coworker, openly question it and express concern. Remember that there is a distinction between all the negative gossip and the general social realm of the office; avoiding the former shouldn’t mean excluding yourself from the latter. Plus, nothing shuts down a mean gossiper quicker than a nice person. Be the nice person. You will always get ahead.