Published August 16, 2012
Not all conversations at work happen around a conference table or at a formal meeting. The more juicy chats tend to occur around the water cooler, at happy hour or in the hallways.
No matter the culture or employees’ happiness levels, every office has gossip.
“It’s part of the fabric of our communication,” says Julie Jansen, career coach and author of I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This. “It’s absolutely impossible not to gossip, just keep it to a minimum.”
Non-work related talk at work can damage your career but, if you’re smart, it can also help.
“People do talk about their coworkers and news gets around,” says Nicole Williams, connection director at LinkedIn. “Knowing this, you want to control this strategically.” Although you don’t want to originate gossip, when information comes your way, have positive information to share.
Experts agree that gossip involving TV shows or sports can help build relationships and camaraderie with coworkers, but it’s important to stick to talking about the right topics.
Gossip doesn’t always have to be negative, but it does get a bad rap, says Samantha Zupan, community expert at Glassdoor. “What is perceived as gossip to one person isn’t to another.”
What to do if you find yourself the center of gossip. Experts agree that if you’re the subject of gossip, the best way to handle the situation is to find the originator of the news and confront him or her in private. “Survey the scene,” says Zupan. Don’t get emotional, but take steps towards a resolution. Before confronting the source, make sure you know exactly what people are saying about you.
When you confront whoever’s talking about you, try not to be hostile or aggressive. “You want to keep the conversation civil,” says Angela Romano Kuo, vice president of human resources at career site TheLadders. “You never want to go into a conversation with anything other than a positive attitude.” Use “I” statements to show how you feel and to keep the conversation from becoming overly accusatory and aggressive.
Once you confront this person, “they’ll move to the next available target as soon as you stand up for yourself,” says Williams. Bad gossip is usually initiated by someone who has low self-esteem, she says.
When you don’t know the source, Romano Kuo suggests talking to your human resources department for guidance on how to handle the situation.
Off limits: What not to gossip about. Avoid spreading malicious gossip or confidential information about co-workers, no matter how tempting. Spreading personal and negative information can backfire and hurt your own career trajectory and make you seem untrustworthy and not a team player.
When it comes to company news, you should be careful with what you say. “Even if your company information is 100% accurate, you shouldn’t be sharing it if you’re privy to information about the organization,” says Romano Kuo.
Anything that’s not true is slander and against the law, especially when it’s in writing, says Williams, adding that your company owns email content.
Sharing details about compensation or company mergers and acquisitions, for example, has the potential to get you fired, says Romano Kuo. “It’s extremely har d to prove [that you’re gossiping] because it’s chatter but it could and would launch into an investigation.”
Never talk negative about your boss. Get-togethers outside of work tend to be gossip prone, and the talk tends to center around what employees have in common: the boss.
“You want to be very careful that you’re not spreading any rumors and, if you hear anything, you keep it to yourself,” Romano Kuo. Never assume loyalty, and whatever you say could easily get back to your boss by others looking to advance.
If you’ve an issue with your boss, it’s best to talk directly with them about the issue so that you don’t add tension to your relationship. If you’re not willing to discuss the issue with your boss, keep quiet about the topic otherwise it won’t end well for a subordinate, she says.
If your boss finds out you’ve been saying bad things about them the relationship will be damaged, says Williams. “Even if your performance is stellar, your boss won’t trust you. On the positive front, you want to be your boss’s biggest promoter.”
How to gossip to help your career. There is good gossip that includes frivolous, inconsequential stuff that can be a career booster. “Be the one who says she got a promotion or got engaged,’” says Williams. “Be the initiator as soon as you hear the good news.” Gossip can be a way to form bonds and alliances with colleagues but you want to share positive information and to know the latest industry news.
Generally news of layoffs, promotions and mergers are spread around the office before a company makes an official announcement. Gossip can be a good way for people to understand change provided they talk to the right people for more context about a situation, says Zupan.
Any inside industry information that you hear can help you create a strategic alliance and show your loyalty to your boss and company, says Williams. If you hear news of staffing changes at a competitor from a reliable source before this information becomes public, for example, by strategizing with your boss, you could potentially use this information to create new business and boost your own career.
“Qualify the source to make sure it’s accurate,” says Romano Kuo. It’s best to have a productive conversation with your manager about an opportunity rather than gossip and speculate with your colleagues. “Be very direct and sensitive about it,” says Romano Kuo.