In my first post on office gossip, I noted that gossip is destructive because it’s rarely accurate, it makes you look like, well, a gossip, and it often comes back to haunt you.
So how do you deal with the gossip that comes your way–whether it’s a tantalizing tidbit about a despised client’s love life or a snide remark about a co-worker’s facial tic?
Basically you have two choices: say nothing or take a stand.
The say nothing approach is easier. You simply take a vow of silence on rumors. To help yourself do this, find something alternative to do. When I feel my gossip juices running, for instance, I sometimes just say, “hmmmm.” (This prevents me from saying “You’re kidding! That’s so shocking! Wait ’til I tell my husband!” but no one needs to know that. ) Or I may put my chin on my hand, and gaze at the gossiper. This isn’t a glare and it isn’t a pout — it’s a look of sheer listening and again, I’m giving my body and mind something (constructive) to do until the gossip ceases.
The bolder approach is to take a stand. You might say, “I’m not comfortable with office gossip.” You might say, “This seems harsh to me. I know she does good work.” You might even say, “I find this group often starts saying bad things about other people when it gets together. Could we stop?”
Whichever approach you use, don’t expect perfection from yourself. Gossip is very, very tempting. Not gossiping takes practice. But the more you practice, the more you build your emotional intellligence. Why? Because refusing to gossip makes you become more aware of your feelings — whether it’s the desire to enact revenge on someone who pissed you off (that’s anger) or the desire to get in with the “cool kids” by joining in on their assessment of someone else (that’s social insecurity). And the more aware of your feelings you are, the better able you are to control behavior.