10 December 2011

The water cooler is leaking...

Office talk, or water cooler conversations, can be just that: what did you do on the weekend, what activities are your children participating in, what great new restaurant have you tried, etc. etc., but what about when the conversation turns to gossip?  Gossip can be vicious and in some cases even lead to disciplinary action or getting fired if you are the one doing it.  Depending on the severity of it, it can be seen as a form of workplace bullying and harassment and  is a very serious matter.  To be the victim of gossip can affect how your co-workers interact with you and if you know the gossip is going on about you, it can affect how you interact with others.  It is embarrassing, humiliating and just darn wrong!

Have you ever been the brunt of office gossip?  Have you ever participated in it?   

The problem with gossip from the perspective of the person who is being talked about is you probably have a good sense that it is going on, but you don't know the specifics so you react and try to counter what you think people are saying.  Because you don't have all the details, your reactions might further fuel the gossip and on and on it goes.  For instance, if I think that someone is bad mouthing me, I know they are only telling one side of the story so I might want to give my side of the story and in essence have now continued the gossip.  It has the effect of each party trying to win the other person over to their side.

I have had personal experience where I have been the brunt of the gossip.  It is hurtful because you don't have a chance to defend yourself and what the person says is left to stand as is and only has their spin on it.  Unless the people who hear the gossip take the time to get to know you and find out for themselves what you are like, their thoughts about you will be tarnished by what they have heard. 

I find that most times it is a lack of communication on every side.  The person gossiping should really be speaking to the person they are targetting and work out any issues directly with them. The person being gossiped about has a harder time because they don't really know what is being said and/or who is saying it, but they usually have a good idea.  I recommend to that person to be better than the gossip and don't perpetuate it.

What if it is affecting your job and your supervisor is reacting to the gossip and their perception about your performance is suffering because of it?

Supervisors have a greater responsibility and should not participate in gossip at any level.  They should speak to their employees if they have issues and work it out with them.  If someone gossips to them, they should challenge the person to do something about the issue they are complaining about and offer to facilitate between the parties if that would be helpful.  Nine times out of ten the gossiper will not want that because they are only... well...gossiping.  By challenging them you let them know you will not be part of the gossip.  If the gossip is more than just gossip and there is some truth behind it, then by challenging them you may get to the bottom of it and find there is something that needs to be addressed and then you can be seen to be part of the solution.  It is always better if people talk things out and work together.  The longer the gossip is left to go unchallenged the worse the situation will be for everyone and the harder to get down to the truth.

We spend so much time at work that it is worth the effort to cultivate our work relationships in a positive way.  There is no room at the office for negative talk about anyone.  If there is a performance issue with someone, then that needs to be addressed with the person and not with others.

How gossip is handled in your office starts and can end with you.  What are you going to do the next time someone comes to you with some juicy bit of information about someone?  I know I am going to try harder to be professional about it, even if and when I feel I am the victim.  My reaction will usually clear up any doubts about me as a person and employee.


Will Thurmann said...

Like your post and I agree that gossip is a dangerous thing. However, I do thing there is room in the workplace for office banter (rather than gossip). Do you agree?

nb You can see my blog on the subject at www.willthurmann.blogspot.com

Will T.

Patricia Robb said...

I read your post. I agree that office banter can be fun if the two parties are on the same page and neither is offended. If someone is offended and the banter continues unwelcome then it can easily turn into harassment or bullying. We had a lawyer come to our office to explain the new laws in Canada regarding workplace harassment and bullying and it really cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had about it. I will post about some of the things that made good sense to me.