Gossip and Rumors in the Workplace: Three Things You Can Do To Stop Them

One of my sons regularly takes our dog to the local dog park. Recently, while breaking up some overly rough play between ours and another dog, my son was bitten and needed medical attention. Word spread quickly about the bite. To ward off rumors and gossip, and because the bite wasn’t the result of a vicious act, my son refused to say which dog bit him.

His strategy didn’t work. Within a day or two, the (inaccurate) rumor was out that he was bitten by a pit bull.

Gossip in the Workplace is Insidious

Let’s move the issue out of the park and into the workplace. Just because something happens or somebody says something, doesn’t mean we should talk about it. In offices, gossip is viewed as annoying and unwelcome behavior based on a survey mentioned in the 2009 article How to Handle Workplace Gossip, yet it still happens. That same article describes what we all know to be true–that careers can be harmed and even killed by gossip.

Gossip Destroys Trust

In the article, Banish Gossip, Build Trust, psychologist Rhoberta Shaler notes, “Trust is destroyed by gossip–and, so are people.” The harm to trust to obvious. Pick any of the four factors of the Trust Equation (Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-orientation), and imagine a rumor started about someone you know who is currently trustworthy.

What would happen if the rumor said that she missed an important deadline and people talked about it? Would you be concerned about partnering with her on the next project with tight time frames? It’s certainly safer to work with someone else, isn’t it?

It may seem odd, but truth isn’t the issue. What if the rumor is true but the full context was missing. Suppose there were extenuating circumstances, like a death in the family. Trust is the victim, along with your co-worker.

What Can You Do?

Here are three easy rules you can follow:

  1. Don’t encourage gossip and rumors. If someone starts to spread gossip, true or not, don’t waste your valuable time listening. Be honest about it–say something like “this is not something I want to hear or talk about,” or, “let’s not talk this way–it doesn’t help matters.”
  2. Don’t simply believe what you hear. Just because someone said it doesn’t make it so. Work hard not to believe the gossip and rumors that you do hear. If it’s important to your business, you may feel the need to verify, but be careful not to act on rumors.
  3. Don’t spread it further. We each have the opportunity to use discretion. The less we say about others, the better off we are. In fact, refusing to participate in spreading gossip and rumors increases our Intimacy factor in the Trust Equation. Think about it; who would you feel more likely to share personal information with, someone known to gossip or someone known to be discrete?

Meanwhile, Back at the Dog Park

It was easy for my son to put an end to talk of his incident in the dog park. He spoke with those he thought might be sharing the rumor, and told them it wasn’t the pit bull that had bitten him. And, he didn’t tell anyone which dog did bite him. That was between him and the owner of that dog. Following his example of saying little, and by refusing to participate by listening and spreading talk, you may be able to reduce gossip and rumors, even in the workplace.

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