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.
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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
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.
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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
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.
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.
Never talk negative about your 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.
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.