What is the harm in a little office gossip? After all, doesn’t everyone do it?
Indeed, most people have been guilty of gossiping at one time or another, but the great conversationalist stays away from it. Some people may wonder why. After all, isn’t small talk just another name for gossip?
The answer to that is a resounding, no!
In fact, they are polar opposites. Small talk is casual conversation about harmless topics. Gossip may begin as relatively harmless, but stray into vicious attacks based in falsehood. Rumors can destroy the morale of the workplace. Some of the negative effects include:
- Deterioration of trust
Whom would you approach if you needed to discuss a serious personal issue? Would you go to anyone who shared gossip with you? Do you ever wonder if the person who brings you juicy stories tells other people tales about you? If gossip runs rampant in the office, people often do not feel that they can trust anyone.
- Lower performance
Telling tales in the break room about another person’s performance does not address the issue with the correct person. The supervisor or coach is not aware of the problem and the employee may not, either. If you need to tell someone about a situation, you should tell someone with the power to resolve it.
- A hostile environment
Bullying often begins with gossip. Idle chatter accelerates into snide comments and verbal attacks. Victims begin to fight back. Hurt feelings evolve into anger. People become uncomfortable at work and may not even realize why.
- Loss of good employees
Positive employees are interested in doing a good job at a place they enjoy. When they are unhappy due to backbiting and gossip, they look for employment elsewhere. Employers feel the loss, but so do employees, who miss having positive teammates.
Once you determine that gossip is a bad habit you want to break, you may struggle with how to make that change. It begins with making yourself aware of people and situations that lead to gossip. When you see it coming, you can often escape it. Unfortunately, that does not always work.
What do you do when the conversation turns to gossip? Here are a few tools to take with you into the break room:
- Change the subject. Gossips want to feel important and often embellish the truth just to have something interesting to say. Give them what they want. Ask them about themselves. For example, she might say, “Did you see that outfit? Talk about clown clothes!” You might respond with, “No, I didn’t notice, but I did see your top. It is gorgeous! Is it new?”
- Defend the object of discussion. Step up to the plate when someone is being verbally attacked and say something like, “Sarah has been very kind to me. Please don’t talk about her that way.” Yes, that takes courage, but you will be amazed at how empowered you will feel when you take control of the situation.
- Walk away from the conversation. You can simply say, “Excuse me. I forgot to take care of something at my desk” and leave the room. Your actions will open the door for others to do the same. If you are uncomfortable with confrontation, you can walk away politely and avoid it.
- Serve as the example. By refusing to gossip yourself, you show others a better way to communicate. Practice pleasant small talk until it becomes second nature to you. People will gravitate to you and your good nature, leaving the gossip with no one to engage in conversation.