So, how do we protect ourselves from getting dragged into the negative spiral of workplace gossip? And how do we stay professional when work conversations go awry? I did some research and thought about it, and here’s what I’ve come up with:
Step 1: Don’t confront the person gossiping and don’t tattle on them to their supervisor. This is at odds with most online media, that say to confront and tattle. I disagree, as confrontation and tattling only create conflict and hurt feelings. Instead, feel compassion for your colleague, but in a caring and not a sympathetic way. Your colleague is probably experiencing a degree of suffering to gossip about another soul. Gossip always involves suffering.
Step 2: Say something positive about the target of the gossip. Mainstream media says to do this, and I agree. But I also think its wise to say something positive about the person gossiping. “I really like the work you did on the X project. Do you mind if we talk about that instead? I’ve been meaning to congratulate you.” Spend time every night thinking about the accomplishments of all your colleagues. That way, when one attacks or is attacked, you have a great rebuttal: “I really appreciate the way Mary dedicates after hours to ensuring our Time Sheets are up-to-date.”
Step 3: If the conversation persists into gossip, then pull out your biggest arsenal: company wins and optimistic projections. You could say, “I believe the company has big growth potential, and I project we can double sales within the next quarter.” Get everyone excited about the future so that there is no time for infighting. Spend your evenings daydreaming about advantages your company has or could gain that would lead to success.
Step 4: Talk strictly business at lunch. If the conversation moves onto your significant other, don’t reveal anything. Say instead, “I don’t discuss my personal relationships at work.” Revealing personal relationships to people who you don’t have a personal relationship with can be risky. The reason is that others can undermine your relationship or, worse, try to woo your significant other. Steer any personal conversation back to business: “I found a possible solution to reaching out to our target market. I think this could triple our revenue next year.”
Lastly, the final step: Avoid going to lunches with the person gossiping. Simply say, “It takes two to three hours out of my day to go for lunch. I then feel the need to make up for lost time on weekends and evenings. My apologies, Sam. I’d like very much to go for lunch, but I have some pressing commitments. Do you think we could meet online to discuss business matters instead?” But do pray for your colleague and continue to think well of him or her.
Be the professional, always optimistic, never gossipy, and always focused on work. After all, that’s how promotions are, in part, earned and feelings never injured.