Surprising Tactics to Smack Down Office Gossip

Catty WomanIs it just your imagination, or are your teammates gossiping about you? At some point, everyone’s name is bound to come up in all the emails zipping across the network about everything from pending product launches to sandboxing results to that awesome new Web developer the product team just hired.

For the record “at some point means” 15 percent of the time. A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology found that’s how frequently office emails are laced with gossip. That’s one time in seven.

There’s a difference between simple story-telling about someone and outright backstabbing. And in the course of our careers, we’ve probably all been the subject of both. So, what do you do when that story-telling turns mean — or sabotaging?

Take a Deep Breath

While you shouldn’t be naïve or turn your back on an obvious attacker, people who fret about office politics or rejection may actually encourage trouble by angering their team and becoming alienated from its members, according to research by the University of British Columbia.

In fact, while it may be counter-intuitive, ignoring politics and the negative behavior of others is usually the best course. Why? The study’s participants were 3.5 times more likely to choose to work with people who focused primarily on the quality of their work, and 16.5 times more likely to want to work with those who included them in group dynamics. In other words, focusing on the job at hand works in your favor.

Also, it seems that people who are a bit paranoid are more likely to try to root out the gossip’s source by eavesdropping or spying. As a result, they invite more gossip and isolation by displaying a lack of trust and transmitting negative vibes.

Fighting Fair

But what should you do if you think that your job or status could be jeopardized by a vicious rumor monger?

First, you can confront the culprit in private and ask them to stop. Or, you can address the rumors in front of your entire group in the lunchroom or when your team is hanging out on a Friday afternoon. Setting the record straight in public may keep the perpetrator at bay.

Most important: Try to tune them out. Avid gossipers may leave you alone if you refuse to participate.

How do you handle office gossip? Tell us in the comments below.

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2 Responses to “Surprising Tactics to Smack Down Office Gossip”

  1. I think the fact that this story associates “office gossip” with an image of a woman — especially in an industry where both men and male gossips outnumber women — is sexist. And what’s the difference between ‘backstabbing’ and legitimate information-gathering? This is the kind of image that tells us — wrongly — that the difference is the gender of the speaker.

    • You make a fair point, Clair. And, to show how stereotypes can work, it never crossed my mind how this image might be perceived, and I consider myself a fairly progressive guy. It should have. I’m going to leave it up, though, in the hope that other people might jump into this discussion.

      On your other point, I think there’s a big difference between backstabbing and legitimate information-gathering. In my mind, asking a manager, “How’s Bob coming with that item?” is information-gathering. Asking the manager, “Is Bob going to get that item done on time, because he’s always late,” is backstabbing. That’s especially true if the complaint is a theme in the person’s conversations about Bob. Backstabbing could also be sending emails to the complete team — except for Bob. Or, bcc’ing his manager on email threads in the hope that Bob might somehow mess himself up.

      I suppose in many cases, the difference is subtle, or a matter of perception. Some people are more sensitive than others. If Bob resents his manager being asked about his progress, that could well be Bob’s issue, and Bob’s alone.

      Thanks for pointing out the inappropriateness of the image. It’s a good lesson for me, and maybe some others, too.