Subject of Office Gossip?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Is that true? Words can be hurtful. Recently, I read an article on Broadly that argued that gossiping is good for you because the brain releases greater proportions of the hormone oxytocin when people engage in gossip. The study argues that gossip brings “people closer together than they would be if they were talking about some impersonal topic.” I was talking to my friend about it and we both had strong positions on how a rumor or gossip had affected our lives and why we feel strongly about having a zero gossiping policy.

Before I start down the path of my opinion on gossip, let’s talk about the history of gossip. A few years ago, Vanity Fair did an article on how people during the ancient Egyptian times would gossip about stories ranging from Queen Hatshepsut to Nehemes-Bastet’s burial. There are similar stories from Ancient Greece. It’s fascinating to see how our records of the culture from thousands of years ago is grounded in gossip.

We all love reading about the lives of famous actors while standing in the line at the grocery store. Why do we do it? What makes someone so important to you that you would gossip about them? Is “gossip” always bad and if it’s good, then is it just exchanging information? Do you think gossip is how a culture at a workplace is defined? If we gossip at work or at home or even let it happen you, how does that affect society? Is gossiping the current standard of culture, morality, and ethics?

After being on the receiving end of rumors and gossip at the workplace, some stories were funny but I will tell you all of them are hurtful. When I hear it, I try my best to turn the conversation around. Sometimes you can’t and just need to walk away. I feel that gossiping is a form of bullying except the other person can’t defend themselves. Gossip creates an unhealthy working environment and in my opinion decreases the productivity of the team. I have not researched this, but it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between gossiping and how often people stay home. What’s important to understand is that gossip creates reality. At a previous job, I heard a rumor that I was related to the CEO because he is Indian and I am Indian. The rumor went that I was able to implement change because I was the CEO’s little sister. When I first heard it, I thought it was hilariously ignorant and didn’t think much else of it. The rumor grew and I heard it again and it would reduce the influence and the change and the accomplishment I was trying to implement. The funny gossip turned hurtful and perhaps even racist.

These are my tips and tricks to change conversations around:

  • First, ask yourself if you want to work somewhere without gossiping? Are you ok with that? I admit gossip is exciting and zests up a boring day. Or sometimes you don’t even notice you are gossiping or think you are gossiping. Think about how the object of the gossip would feel hearing what you are saying? Would you want to be the center of gossip?
  • Ask them – Ask the person who is gossiping to you if they think what they said adds value to the conversation? This is highly confrontational and you have to be comfortable doing that. I find once you say that, people tend to be more careful about what they say around you
  • Motive – What is the motive for you to share this information? What is the motive of the other person who is gossiping? Many times gossiping can make you feel superior but it adds to distrust with people around you. It ruins your reputation because what you say about others reflects back on you
  • It starts with you – if you want things to change at work, you need to stop gossiping at home and with your friends. Are you part of the problem? You can reroute the conversations if someone is talking negatively
  • Advocate – This is usually my go-to when I can’t get the person who is gossiping to stop. I stick up for the other person. I notice that it helps build trust because people can see that you are not going to talk negatively about someone but rather stick up for people
  • Giving people the power – we have the power to control our environment. I refuse to believe that we are all subjects of our environment and we don’t have the power to change the circumstances around us
  • Empathic – Cut off the gossip by looking at the person’s emotions and then be empathic towards their feelings but don’t join in
  • Let it go – deal with the hurt you are feeling if someone is gossiping about you. It’s so easy to retaliate and want to hurt their feelings as well by gossiping about them. Just remember that what you say will go around and will come back around
  • Forgive yourself – everyone has gossiped. It’s ok. Let’s forgive ourselves for doing it and let’s be part of the change to stop

Have you been around gossiping at work? How do you deal with it? Do you want to work somewhere without gossip? At the end of the day, if you want to change the culture around you and improve a culture that is positive, it starts with you. Let’s build our integrity. Let’s all be good role models.

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