Office gossip. We know it’s wrong. Yet, there is no denying that we do it. A lot. A recent study at the University of Amsterdam concluded that 90 percent of office conversation qualifies as gossip. Talking about colleagues to other colleagues is impossible to avoid, but at what point does mere talk cross the line into gossip territory?
Knowing when to steer a conversation away from gossip is a strength to have at the office. Gossiping can be dangerous to your relationships, and can negatively impact the atmosphere at work, or your company’s culture. Also as important is knowing how to take small talk elsewhere without coming across as holier than thou. Here are three ways to do that:
You take small talk in different directions all the time without noticing. However, shifting the subject purposefully can prove to be more difficult – you don’t want to come across as forceful or uninterested, after all. The key thing here is to latch on to any inoffensive subject matter and run with it. Finding an innocuous detail within scandalous chitchat will allow you to lead the conversation into safe terrain in a non-condescending way.
Research suggests that gossiping dates back to the hunter and gathering era when members of a tribe would dish out dirt on those not pulling their weight. Gossip is clearly in our DNA, so kicking the bad habit to the curb can be easier said than done. If you can’t stop from gossiping, you might as well gossip about positive things. Don’t be afraid to be the change you want to see. People look to others for examples on appropriate breakroom chatter. Go ahead and share positive stories about coworkers.
There are a few phrases that most people use when introducing juicy news, such as, “I shouldn’t be saying this, but…” or “don’t repeat this, but…” or “if I tell you something, promise not to say anything.” These are surefire indicators that gossip is coming your way, so don’t be afraid to stop idle talk dead in its tracks. Despite the urge to join in, their introduction is the perfect setup for disengagement. Let them know that they are not obligated to share private information with you. Or, remind them that keeping a secret isn’t your strong suit.
Trying to actively stop gossip by establishing a gossip free work zone isn’t effective, and can inadvertently cause more gossip among employees. Instead, learn to spot the signs of incoming gossip and avoid it. You’ll feel better, and others will benefit too. Less office buzz means more productivity as well as improved morale!