Gossip can be a cancer in the workplace, overshadowing business-focused interactions and saddling the work environment with unnecessary drama. While in some offices gossip is simply a buzz in the background, in others its din is too loud to ignore. Whether you find yourself on the receiving end of negative gossip, or simply are noticing toxic workplace gossip, you can and should work to combat it.
Stop taking part in the gossip. Even if you aren’t the queen bee, your participation makes you a link in the gossip chain. Make a conscious effort to change. Encourage others to follow your lead: Tell them you have decided to bow out when they try to fill your ear with a tempting morsel or information about a co-worker. By stepping out of the gossip circle, you can not only potentially reduce the effectiveness of this informal information sharing network, but also ensure that you aren’t being a hypocrite by claiming to detest something in which you are actively taking part.
Busy yourself with work. Instead of standing around the gossip mecca that is your office water cooler for longer than it takes to fill a cup, or hanging out in the break room and listening to idle chatter during the lunch hour, dive headfirst into your work. Particularly if you are a newly reformed gossiper, doing so will help you change your ways, making it less likely that you will slip into your old patterns. Quite simply, you won’t have time.
Tell the gossiper of your dissatisfaction. While you don’t want to add to the drama that may already prevail in a gossip-filled work environment, it is permissible to stand up to the co-worker who perpetuates the gossip when she tries to pull you into the loop. Explain kindly that you feel gossip is a problem in the workplace and that you are trying to avoid being a part of it. At worst, standing up to her will show her that you are serious about your commitment to avoid gossiping. At best, it will encourage her to rethink her ways.
Talk to your supervisor if gossip is affecting your performance. Avoid finger-pointing, but simply explain what the piece of gossip entails and how it is hurting your performance. If your boss asks you who is at the root of this gossip, tell her, but don’t volunteer this information without being asked. If you do, you risk looking like a tattletale.
Champion a zero tolerance gossip policy. As Beth Weissenberger, CEO and Handel Group co-founder says in "BusinessWeek," zero tolerance policies are highly effective in putting the kibosh on gossip. If you lead a business, create this yourself, working with a committee of interested individuals to draft a policy -- including sanctions for violating it. If you don’t wield this power, speak to those who do about your gossip-related concerns, and encourage them to adopt a policy. To show your commitment, volunteer to be on a committee.
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.