Inner-Strength Training Tip #19: Though shall not participate in workplace gossip
You’re at work when one of your co-workers approaches you to say that [insert name here] is having a bad day and has made tons of mistakes already.
Caught off guard you awkwardly smile and hope they walk away. However, they don’t walk away. They continue to spill the beans about how your boss is upset with [insert name here] and boy, have they really screwed this one up.
Even if we don’t talk gossip about the employee in question, we still hear what is being said about them. We can’t unhear it. And whether we realize it or not that person’s opinion taints our perception of things.
We may not condone gossip but, we still get a thrill from hearing someone’s flaws being pointed out. It may be traced back to a biological urge of survival of the fittest.
While gossip can be seen as a way to bond socially, brick-by-brick it erodes the foundation and trust of a company.
Have you ever worked at an office where the energy swirling about just drained you? Or worse made you dread going in every day? Working at a company that you dread seeps into every part of your life from socially to personally to professionally.
I’m not a gossiper, but the human ego loves to gossip. We love to hear the juicy details of someone’s life. And, it wasn’t until I read the book Trainwreck by Sady Doyle that I started to see how celebrity women are built up and ripped apart in the media all for our enjoyment.
Gossip at work
If you find yourself wondering if gossip exists in your workplace, I’ve found the answer to be that in most cases it does exist. While you consider yourself to be a person of integrity, it’s true that not everyone shares your values.
Signs of gossip
Here are some red flags and good knowledge to look out for at work:
- If you are new to a company sometimes people will point out or criticize what they deem to be wrong with you. It is human nature and something that people will usually keep to themselves or to their own thoughts.
- A toxic bond between two or more women/men. Characteristics of this bond are unhealthy joking and banter that has a negative appearance to it. When this toxic pair chooses to bond socially you may feel that you are being picked on or have to be on the defensive.
- With not so sophisticated gossipers you may hear them talk about you or reference what you have said in a mocking tone when you are not in the room, but still within earshot. Try to immediately intervene in this kind of gossip by making your presence known in a professional way.
- For the more intuitive readers, when you enter a room there is a noticeable revealing energy that others have spoken about you. This may include blank stairs and a feeling of being the outsider. Or a feeling of distance between you and the group
Are your co-workers only trustworthy to a point?
Your co-workers can be fun to work with but they may not share the same values as you. This creates a fundamental divide between you and them because they may engage in behaviors that you find to be deconstructive.
Here are ways to safeguard yourself professionally:
- At work, if your behavior goes from open and bubbly to sealed up and quiet (for example if you are going through a pensive phase and really evaluating your future, your life, etc) this change may spark gossip. People will want to know what’s up, why the change in behavior?
- To avoid being the target of gossip, try to fake it. Put on a fake smile for a while until the pensive phase passes and you feel like talking again.
- Only show people what you want them to see. While openness and authenticity can help you get promoted in certain situations at work. Other times, it can leave you vulnerable for others to take advantage of you.
Stick up for your co-workers if they are the target of unnecessary gossip
They may never know that you had their back but that doesn’t matter. You will gain respect as someone who is trustworthy, a “good person”, honest and wise. Others will come to depend on your because they know you won’t speak badly of them.
It may take time (a few months or a couple years to build your reputation) but stay consistent because to earn the trust of someone is worth the wait. They will be able to let their guard down around you, which is something you can’t do with most people.
Some ways to stick up for your co-workers that I’ve used as a response is:
- “Well, she is still young and I’m sure she won’t make that mistake again”
- Silence (is an effective response)
- Changing the subject or smiling and walking away
- If you spot workplace bullying and gossip, you can speak to the culprit privately. I’ve done this before and said “Why are you so mean to [insert name here]? He wants to be respected just like you do.”
However, don’t confuse gossip with speaking up about a situation for the safety of the company. If you see someone who is a liability to the company and who engages in reckless behavior make sure to speak up to a manager about it.
How do you avoid office gossip?