Why do people gossip at work?
To understand how and why gossip occurs in the workplace, it’s important to dig deeper. A revealing study conducted in 2001 by the American Psychological Society indicated that there are actually two forms of secret communication that go on at work. These are rumors, which are loosely based on facts combined with personal hypothesis; and gossip, which is information passed between people who have similar interests or objectives.
In other words, rumors are generally less harmful than gossip which can be malicious in intent—even going as far as bordering on workplace bullying. People share information because they are looking for a connection with others, therefore knowing something unique and then telling another person bonds them on an emotional level. People gossip purely for the purpose of influencing others and gaining a social edge. In this age where everyone is connected by way of multiple channels, gossip can easily get out of control and break down the fibers of an organization. This is why a zero-tolerance policy of gossip is critical.
How gossip in the office hurts
We are all keenly aware that gossip distorts the truth and can become harmful to members of any work team. When information is passes in any format, it loses some semblance of the initial value, as things get changed by the way each person receives and perceives this information. Ever play the “telephone game” when you were a kid? This is an example of how any information gets distorted the more it’s passed along the rumor mill.
Stopping office gossip in its tracks
The good news is that there are several ways to form an anti-gossip policy in your workplace, starting now. Let’s learn more.
Refuse to participate in idle chat about colleagues.
When you actively become part of any activity at the office, you are essentially giving your blessing to it. If gossip isn’t on your list of acceptable activities, simply walk away from those who start bashing their colleagues or talking behind others’ backs. Speak up and say that it’s not fair to the other person who is not there to quantify. Remember, you are not obligated to follow the negative behaviors of others.
Do not acknowledge or pass information on to others.
One good way to stop rumors from spreading throughout the workplace is to stop passing information on to your friends and co-workers. If you are not a conduit for the exchange of false information, you are not contributing to the breakdown of your team or your company. Take the time to ask the person giving you this information to stop as well.
Tactfully ask others to stop gossiping, especially if it’s about you.
There is nothing unprofessional about taking a person aside and letting them know that it’s not OK to spread rumors at work, no matter how accurate they may think they are. Instead, be willing to step up and stop the gossip before it gets out of hand. If the gossip is about you, don’t just ignore it. “The effort is to keep the conversation civil and productive”, advises Sandra Crowe, the author of Since Strangling Isn’t an Option. Say something, and if needed, involve a trusted supervisor or the HR manager for support.
Remember, it’s up to you to set boundaries as to what you will and will not tolerate in the behaviors and actions of co-workers. Be professional and set a shining example for others to follow.
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