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Toxic Talk: How Office Gossip Hurts You, Your Colleagues, And Your Company

“Hey, I just saw Marcy and the new guy in the break room. I wonder if they’re having an affair?”

“What’s wrong with Dave today? He looks down… I bet he blew his performance review!”

“Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I’ve heard the new retail line is turning out to be a major fail.”

Workplace gossip is inevitable. And some of it’s perfectly fine, because not every office conversation has to revolve around work. But people often talk about their coworkers, their managers, and their company in ways that they may not even realize are toxic. You might think what you’re saying is harmless chitchat, but idle speculation about your colleagues’ personal lives, or worse, about your company’s business, can end up fanning the flames of baseless rumors that can damage not only the people around you, but your company – and your own career.

The damage gossip can do

1. It can negatively affect your image – and future. If you have a tendency to harshly judge your colleagues, you’ll soon find yourself without friends in the workplace. Once you get a reputation as a source of office gossip, your managers will lose trust in you and won’t include you in any discussion of a sensitive nature. And you certainly won’t find yourself on the fast track for a promotion. And if you do constantly disparage others, ask yourself why. Are you unhappy in your role? Do you feel threatened by other people’s success? Whatever your reasons, it’s unprofessional and reflects poorly on you.

2. It breeds a negative work culture. We all have bad days at work. Perhaps someone made a mistake that made your job more difficult, or your project didn’t receive the response you were hoping for. If you decide to share your feelings, be very careful about what you say and to whom. Because if you share your dissatisfaction with everyone, you’ll create an uncomfortable atmosphere that can affect the entire office.

3. It’s hurtful and detrimental to others. Office gossip creates unknown victims, as those being spoken about often are unaware of it, and as a result cannot defend themselves. Rumors not only unfairly damage reputations and impact the emotional wellbeing of those being gossiped about, but also impair work relationships and morale.

Take steps to avoid office gossip

How do you gracefully extricate yourself when you find yourself in the middle of a not-so-innocent gossip session? Here are three ideas that can help you “just say no to gossip” in a way that sets a good example without needlessly alienating others.

1. Just walk away. If the talk turns from discussing “what to get Valerie for her birthday” to “everything that’s wrong with Valerie”, leaving the room is a simple but effective tactic. Say “I’ve got a deadline to meet, no time to chat right now.” You’ve sent a quick clear message and you’re gone.

2. Change the subject. If you do decide to stick around and join the conversation, move it in a direction you’re more comfortable with – by changing the focus to company business rather than personal business. Try steering the conversation away from Valerie to Valerie’s department and talk about what’s moving and shaking there.

3. Emphasize the positive. If it seems reasonable, you can continue discussing the same people, but in a different light. “Gee, that doesn’t sound like Valerie to me at all. I just saw her Tuesday and she was knocking it out of the park with her presentation to the sales team.”

In every place of work, there’s going to be gossip. As long as it remains in the realm of harmless chatter, you might as well let it go. But if the gossip you’re hearing is disrupting the workplace, hurting people’s feelings, damaging interpersonal relationships, or lowering employee morale, as a responsible professional, you need to take action.

About the author

We are made up of marketers, sales representatives, administrators, product and project managers, developers, operational personnel and customer service agents all passionate about collaboration. Communication is at the heart of what we do, and we are continually in search of better, faster, more efficient and cutting-edge ways to connect people across geographic borders. We believe that progress emerges from people's desire to share and that everyone works better when they're having fun!

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