Managing workplace gossip

Amany Abdel-Moneim , Tuesday 21 Sep 2021

Negative office talk can turn a healthy workplace into a toxic environment, for example. It can ruin professional and personal relationships, get people fired, or drive good employees away


Everybody gossips. Gossiping is a fundamental human instinct because our lives are deeply rooted in groups, and we depend on the people in our groups to survive. We spend more time gossiping every day than we’d probably imagine, sharing information about the people in our lives with those around us. Though we might like to think that those daily conversations are strictly productive idea-exchanges and debates about life’s unanswered questions, actually we all talk about other people.

A study published in the US journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that a typical person spends about 52 minutes per day gossiping. According to the study, the definition of gossiping is talking about a person who isn’t present. It’s not necessarily about spreading malicious rumours or embarrassing stories, just sharing information.

Like anywhere else, gossip and rumours may exist in the workplace. What is important here is the maturity people exhibit to ignore it and not partake in it. Negative office talk can turn a healthy workplace into a toxic environment, for example. It can ruin professional and personal relationships, get people fired or drive good employees away.

Gossip, though, can also be positive, build co-worker bonds and foster teamwork. Colleagues might excitedly talk about an announced pregnancy, a new product, possible promotions, mergers or raises. These are positive forms of gossip, and such conversations can be a pleasant, even exciting, distraction from mundane daily tasks.

Here are some tips that will help you deal with gossip in your workplace.

Create avenues for information: Gossip often exists when there’s not enough information about what is going on. Organisations should let their employees know in advance about any major changes happening and ensure that information is sent out at regular intervals to avoid a lack of transparency.

Meet gossipers in person: Rather than getting angry with a colleague who is spreading gossips and rumours, meet him and have a direct one-to-one conversation. This can help to nip any harmful gossip in the bud.

Stay away from gossips: Work probably takes up most of your week, so you should build trustworthy relationships with those around you. Spend some time getting to know those at work and deciding who you want to spend time with. It’s best to have friends who do not gossip and concentrate on work. If a colleague has come to you and is badmouthing another colleague who is not present, just shift the talk to something more interesting. The topic of conversation will likely turn to talk that is rather more motivating.

Guard your tongue: Think before you speak. Be careful about what you are saying at work and to whom. Keep your personal life private and be mindful of the things you do decide to share with others. If you share personal things, others may use this to spread rumours. Even if you have heard about a nasty occurrence in the office, do not share it with others as this is all it takes to become a gossip.
Be friendly with colleagues: Don’t assert yourself self-righteousnessly or try to be a saint. If you stay away from others and aren’t a team player, it is only natural to experience gossip about you.

Stay positive: Counter any gossip with positivity, and note that if you remain positive, others will not come to you to spread information. Spreading positive gossip like positive stories about a colleague or the organisation is a good way to limit the spread of negative ones. 

Concentrate on work: Spend your time in the office constructively by focusing on your work and trying to learn something new. When others see that you are engrossed in work, they may not have the courage to disturb you with gossip.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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