Friday, August 22, 2008

What To Do When the Gossip is About....You


Go ahead and fess up.

I know you look at those gossip rags near the checkout supermarket lines. I know that you know that Brad and Angelina had twins. I also know that you are aware John Edwards cheated on his wife, Elizabeth. If you don’t know these things, then you’re not human and obviously live under a rock.

As much as all of us proclaim we don’t listen, see, spread, smell or otherwise consume gossip, we really do. Maybe not on purpose. Maybe just by accident. We can’t help it, we say. We can’t walk around with our palms over our ears singing “nah, nah, nah” or slap our hands over our eyes so that we don’t see Britney Spear exiting a car sans underwear.

And the same is true of the workplace. If you have a job, then you have gossip. Maybe we don’t even think of it as gossip, but call it that more politically correct term, “office politics.” We listen to it because sometimes our very survival depends on it. We’re aware of the blow-up the boss had with his boss. We know that positions may be cut in another department. We have heard that a co-worker has been demoted for yelling at a colleague. All of that, we say, is important stuff we need to know.

But then one day, you’re sitting at work, and you realize that the talk is about you. You realize there are discussions about the mistake you made last month that cost the company money. Or, you find out that people are talking about your son being arrested for DUI. Maybe there are snickers or sly glances your way and lots of hushed tones to indicate you’re the subject of some kind of gossip.

You ignore it as long as you can. You’re hoping it goes away. You figure the gossips will tire of you and move onto something else. Still, no matter how much you try to put it out of your mind, you realize that the gossip mill continues to grind away, and you’re still caught in it.

While our mothers may have taught the old “sticks and stones” routine to us when we were in school, it doesn’t always work when we’re older. For one thing, gossip can hurt our careers. For another, it can make us physically sick and unable to do our jobs. And here’s the real modern-day kick: It can continue to be spread online.

So, what to do when you realize you’re the object of gossip at work? There are several routes to take, depending on what you feel is best for you at the time:

1. Confront the source. This takes a lot of guts, and you need to do it in a calm way. Walk up to the person and say: “I heard that you’ve been discussing issues in my personal/professional life.” Then, summarize what you’ve heard: “I understand that you’ve been talking about my son/job performance, and I would appreciate it if you would come to me if you have any questions or comments rather than talking to others about it.”

2. Ask for help. If you think someone may be talking about you, but you’re not sure (or maybe are sure), then you can act as if you’re enlisting their aid, which can help shame them into stopping their wagging tongue. “There seems to be gossip going around about me. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s really not OK with me. If you hear anyone gossiping about me, I’d appreciate it if you tell them to stop.”

3. Keep your nose clean. The worst thing you can do if you’re being gossiped about is to attack with the same kind of talk. Make sure no one sucks you into talking about the person who may be gabbing about you, or tries to ratchet up the destructive comments. Just change the subject, or say: “You know, I don’t like talking about other people. I know what that feels like, and it’s really hurtful.”

4. Go to the boss. This can be risky. If your boss doesn’t support you in stopping the gossip and confronting the ones at fault, then the gossip is only bound to get worse. The only choice may be leaving the job. Still, if your company has a formal policy in place that states no gossiping, you could have a better foundation to build your case.

What would you do if you were being gossiped about at work? Is there any way to avoid it?


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4 comments:

Diane Danielson said...

Hi Anita - Good points here. The one I would add is under "Enlisting help". It's great if you can go to the source. But if that's uncomfortable, as the gossiper might not be someone with whom you normally chat, then you need to enlist other help. This is why it's important to have a good ally in the office. Let her/him counteract the negatives. i.e., "I realize Sally made a mistake the other week, but really what does it compare to her other contributions like X,Y & Z?" My other advice is to befriend the company CGO (Chief Gossip Officer) before you become the object of their disaffection.

Diane K. Danielson
ceo, http://www.downtownwomensclub.com.

Anita said...

Diane,
Great points! I had not heard of the CGO title, but I feel sure every workplace has one. Guess it the old adage is true about keeping friends close, and the gossips closer....!
Thanks for posting such useful ideas.

Erika with Qvisory said...

Gossip is so destructive and hurtful. The best way to comabt it truly is to keep your nose clean by staying away from office gossip. Don't buy it, don't sell it.

Also, keep a lid on what you share at work! Not all info is appropriate!

Anita said...

Erika,
You bring up a very good point: If you don't want people dishing dirt on your life, then keep your life private. I'm always amazed by people who post the most intimate details of their lives online, then are upset when others at work talk about those details. Many people have told me that they wish they had never shared private details with co-workers, because it came back to haunt them.
Thanks for making the point.