Workplace Gossip: When it’s a Good Idea to Slow the Rumor Mill

Photo of a trio of gossiping co-workers.

Contrary to what some HR managers might believe, in every productive and thriving company there’s a healthy place for gossip. When it’s handled carefully, and the overall workplace culture is kept open and positive, gossip can strengthen friendships, make new employees and outsiders feel included, and even provide a healthy and harmless outlet for the venting of frustrations. Unfortunately, not all workplace cultures are healthy and positive enough to weather gossip’s darker side. And in some cases, a toxic wave of gossip can derail an entire career.

If a friend wants to share a harmless secret or group of teammates need to decompress over happy hour, feel free to participate. But watch out, and recognize when it’s time to stop pouring grist into the mill.

Put the Kibosh on Gossip

  1. If you’re drawn into a conversation that’s hurtful, unfair, or possibly damaging to someone’s reputation or relationships, slow it down. Your private murmurings may be your own business, but if you’re perpetuating a rumor that may harm an innocent person, you’ve crossed the line. 

  2. All around you, people are fighting personal battles that may be more difficult than you realize. A boss or coworker’s odd behavior or confusing choices may arise from issues that are unknown to you and are certainly none of your business. A little empathy and compassion can go a long way. Especially because, chances are, you have personal shortcomings and struggles of your own that you wouldn’t want your acquaintances to dissect and judge. 

  3. Keep in mind how gossip looks to others. Think of the professional role models you admire the most, including your mentors and others in the workplace whom you look up to. How much time do these people spend picking apart the lives and foibles of those around them? Probably not much. 
  4. Appreciate the danger of being overheard. Before you engage in a gossipy snark-fest with a friend, stop and imagine the worst possible person who might be inadvertently listening in. If you would never discuss these matters in the presence of that person, why discuss them at all? Also, recognize that someone else might hear only part of your conversation and interpret it the wrong way. This person might be your boss, your employee, or someone else you respect. 

  5. Are you absolutely bursting at the seams with a funny story or the need to share the awful remark your boss just made? Will keeping the story bottled up make you feel less like a human and more like a cubicle robot than you already do? That’s normal. Just do your best to wait for an appropriate time and place to discuss the subject. And recognize that that time and place may have to be off the premises and outside of work hours. 

Don’t Lose your Job or Undermine Your Career for Foolish Reasons

Protect yourself from harmful gossip, and limit the damage you may cause to someone else by passing on a snarky rumor. Learning to behave in a professional workplace is the first requirement of a long and successful career. Turn to LiveCareer for more tips on how to manage your appearance, your demeanor, and your personal brand in a professional setting.

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