Stress at Work: Managing Office Gossip

Does the phrase ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ sound familiar to you.  How many times do we listen to ‘Chinese whispers’ only to find out that the rumours are completely
unfounded or inaccurate.  Nevertheless, I still wonder if gossip has a place in the workplace.

I read the other day of a company director who decided to sound out the reaction of his team about an impending change management programme, by starting an anonymous rumour to gauge their reaction.  Would they go into denial, get angry, say it was unfair or would they embrace the change.

Personally, I would not favour using this tactic.  Gossiping about proposed changes does not serve any useful purpose but just increases the fear factor.   It may be an interesting exercise for the person concerned but in essence you are treating people like automatons to see how they are going to react to a given situation.  And, of course,  a manager will only get one chance to do this because next time, people won’t trust their remarks.

Merit in office gossip?

I can see some limited merit in office gossip being used if this is the only conduit available to disseminate important news but I am sure there are better ways of communicating and it is down to the organisation to organise and implement channels of communications that efficiently distribute accurate information to staff at all levels.

In trying to see the other side of the issue, I wonder if office gossip creates camaraderie?  If someone shares some hitherto unknown information with you, does it create a special bond and increase trust?   In a way, I can certainly see that it might as it may bring two or more people together who might otherwise have remained distant.

Of course, if you are at the receiving end of malicious gossip, it can be hurtful and divisive, and at worst can result in absence from work and even sickness.

The issue of office gossip has been the topic of many academic papers because the subject it is not as straightforward as one might have originally thought.

To be known as a ‘gossip’ is not complimentary although we, as human beings, love to be on the inside track to gain information that others don’t have.  It is a very unusual
individual who will walk away from a good, juicy story.

The plain fact is that we can’t stop gossip as most of us are addicted to listening to it.

However, here are a few tips on how to handle gossip at work:

Analyse the gossip:
When someone wants to put a word in your ear, think to yourself, ‘I
wonder why they are telling me this and what are their motives? Are they
jealous of someone or do they wish to make trouble?

Then think if the gossip has any substance to it.   If you are a manager and someone is giving you information about the private life or the business dealings of one of your
team members, you may either ignore it or wish to check it out with a neutral

Much gossip is inaccurate although it may have some basis in fact. The problem is to be able to separate fact from fiction. Before taking any action on anything that you hear, first check the real facts of the matter to ensure it is true or it could leave you in a very compromising position.

Contribute to the office gossip at your own risk:  Be aware that you may be involving yourself in a situation that has not been validated and that you need to tread very

In future, if someone wants to put a word in your ear, think of the consequences of either repeating the gossip or contributing to it and the potential implications of doing so and you might not be quite so willing to listen to what is being said around the coffee machine next time!

Realistically, people who indulge themselves in idle or malicious gossip will not be encouraging an open, honest and healthy workplace culture.

The truth is that words and talk can cause damage particularly if aimed against an individual and the wisest policy is not to contribute to any conversation that you would not like to be made about you, yourself, or your own colleagues or family.

Key Learning Points

  • Idle chatter can be damaging
  • Try not to contribute to personal criticism
  • Think: would you like this to be said about you?

Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News

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