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At some of my jobs people love to gossip about each other. I don't like to participate in gossip.

I've found that if I speak up to tell these people that I believe gossipping is bad, I become a bigger target for the gossip itself.

Am I right to try to stop gossip from occurring? If so, how can I address it without causing problems or making myself a target?

  • +1--I've run into this as well, and I'm sure a lot of people have. I've definitely taken the refusing-to-participate route. By not making the gossips feel judged, while not participating, I've pretty much kept out of trouble, but it's far from perfect. – RSid Apr 10 '12 at 21:20
  • Related meta discussion: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/35/… – Shog9 Apr 11 '12 at 17:36
  • @Shog9 and everyone, after reading Robert's answer, I edited this question to make it less generic and more specifically answerable. – Nicole Apr 12 '12 at 20:04
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You are definitely setting the example by not participating. After that, it just depends on how assertive you want to be. For example, I had a friend who used to say things like,

"Is this a positive, uplifting conversation that will help us all move forward?"

Feel free to paraphrase or borrow outright.

The other discipline I find useful is to reflect on the Rotary Four Way Test.

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    I'd also add the golden rule: "I don't like people talking about me if it's not constructive, so I wouldn't do that to others" – Atif Apr 12 '12 at 20:16
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Feed into it!

Gossip is just another word for "information exchange". It only becomes a problem when it's harmful or incorrect. Folks naturally want to share information about each other and the company they work for, and trying to suppress it is futile; indeed, if you develop a reputation for shutting down gossip, you may find yourself "out of the loop" as your co-workers learn to recognize you as a buzz-kill. And by refusing to join in, you may actually be hurting yourself and others:

The study also found that gossip can be therapeutic. Volunteers’ heart rates increased when they witnessed someone behaving badly, but this increase was tempered when they were able to pass on the information to alert others.

“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” Willer said.

So don't just listen. Participate! And make sure you're sharing helpful and accurate information, and encouraging others to do likewise.

...Or failing that, at least spread entertaining misinformation:

Mary: Did you hear about Janice? Her son got arrested for selling Ritalin at school!

Lucas: No, I didn't... But what a relief it is to hear she actually has a son! There was a rumor going around that her whole family was just a cover story, to hide her involvement in the Russian mafia!

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    I want to both upvote and downvote this answer. You are a walking conundrum. – hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 1:02
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    Doing something bad only because it can decrease your heart rate seems to be very egoistic – user1023 May 31 '12 at 12:03
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    @lechlukasz - that'd be pretty cold. But so is responding to someone who's upset and coming to you to vent with "you're being negative, quiet down". Understanding why people engage in potentially-harmful behavior is crucial to directing it in a positive direction, IMHO. – Shog9 May 31 '12 at 17:01
  • Update: I upvoted this. Shog is still a walking conundrum, however. – hairboat Jun 21 at 19:05
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There are many different kinds of gossip and they aren't all wrong. Gossip is how a culture establishes its norms. When someone tells you I saw Steve in the caf talking to Joe from another group, and they looked embarrassed and went quiet when they were spotted, they are telling you that leaving this group, especially stealthily, is against the group norms, or that secret conversations are against the group norms. That kind of gossip has its place. On the other hand if they're telling you I saw Steve at a restaurant last night talking to a woman who wasn't his wife, and they looked embarrassed and went quiet when they were spotted, that is not good gossip. I would reply "I can think of a thousand innocent reasons you would see that, and I can't think of a single reason we should be discussing it."

Lumping both conversations, along with I heard there might be more layoffs coming and The new XZ123 Mark IV is really spiffy, I can't wait till it's released as gossip is throwing away valuable information and not being hard enough on the personal prying and judging that constitutes bad gossip.

8

Change the topic, shrug your shoulders, find a reason to leave the conversation. Don't defend or attack anyone, don't let the gossip thrive.

If you're in a group and someone starts gossiping, change the subject or revive the topic you were talking about before the gossip. Chances are if you're in a group of people someone else is just as uncomfortable as you are.

If you're alone and someone interrupts you or walks by your desk and tries to gossip, make up an excuse or just shrug. Say you don't know X person well enough to comment, say you've got to go to the rest room, something polite to get them to go away. They'll get the hint and you don't need to get in a big argument over who's a gossip.

7

Stay away. Don't get involved in that slippery slope. My recommendation is to walk away from those types of conversations or steer it back to a work-related matter. Another alternative if in a casual setting (like a lunch break) is to change the subject to something positive that everyone will enjoy discussing.

At the end of the day it is completely unprofessional, and leads to nothing positive or productive.

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