I overheard my teenaged daughter gossipping with her friend the other day in the kitchen. It was fairly benign stuff — something about all of the people that are and aren’t going to the Winter formal and their speculations on the reasons for both.
As humans we’re hardwired to gossip. I’m not talking about the cruel, underhanded gossip that ends relationships and gets people fired. I’m talking about the sort of gossip that was the only form of “nightly news” our ancestors had. Crops failing. A new baby in the next village. All of these things are a form of gossip. Unfortunately, at some point it became a means to undermine and hurt others. This is especially true in work settings, where office gossip is one of the leading causes of stress for employees.
A Negative + Negative Still Doesn’t Equal a Positive
To make it even more confusing, there are two types of gossip — positive and negative. It’s actually helpful for people to come together when they engage in positive gossip. For instance, perhaps a co-worker has told you and a few others that he’s getting married. Sharing this information (as long as it wasn’t in confidence) creates a certain level of camraderie and develops positive feelings of happiness and excitement for that co-worker amongst the other employees.
Stop the Cycle of Negative Gossip
It isn’t hard to identify the ringleader when it comes to negative workplace gossip. They usually tend to sidle in where people are casually convened (hence the water cooler reference you might hear fairly often) and drop some juicy bomb meant to wow or turn people against one another. This is just a form of control that can be pretty damaging if it’s not nipped in the bud.
Here are some great ways to stop that gossip in their tracks:
- Don’t participate. If they start to speak poorly of another person, politely excuse yourself. Shutting them down will get it across that you don’t tolerate that sort of behavior in a non-confrontational manner.
- Speak Up. Sometimes someone may be blowing off steam and say something that is a bit inappropriate. In most cases, it’s fine to just disengage. If you find this person is spreading negative news regularly, however, it might be a wise to pull the person to the side and let them know in a polite way that what they are doing is not nice nor helpful to anyone.
- Encourage positive gossip. Just make sure whatever you’re sharing hasn’t been disclosed to you in confidence.
- Consider bringing in an expert to help if office gossip is creating a toxic work environment.