Work Relationships

How To Handle Gossip About a Coworker

Written by Peter Jones

Gossip happens. And there is always someone in every office who just can’t help but spread it. And of course, it can be fun. But it can be equally hurtful—and can damage careers—not just the person’s being gossiped about.

How to take the high road? Here are a few useful strategies to keep your head above the fray.

1. Set the tone.

You need to be the grownup—especially if you’re a manager or supervisor and will be setting an example for your underlings. But really anyone can do this. If people start speculating wildly about company issues—or worse—gossiping about coworkers, bosses, and peers, you can be the first one to remove yourself and take a step back. This might just show them, by example, the error of their ways—without your having to say anything outright. Don’t let yourself be drawn in. If you can’t leave a conversation, try a subtle change of topic.

2. Be open to negativity.

People are more likely to gossip about you if you don’t seem open to hearing their concerns or workplace issues (in the case of being a supervisor) or if you don’t seem open to constructive criticism yourself. Be as transparent as possible when you’re in a position of power. And no matter what your job title, keep the lines of communication open.

3. Don’t punish the middleman.

If you’re a supervisor and one employee steps forward to address an issue or bring a problem to your attention, don’t punish that person for doing so. That person’s coworkers will likely see this as a sign of your being unapproachable and unfair. Cue: gossip.

4. Confront the source.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to confront the gossiper, even if the gossip is about you. Most gossipers continue their chattering because they believe there are no negative consequences. But if you let them know you’re on to what they’re up to—and let them know your feelings on the matter—chances are they might stop on their own. If you have to chastise them for their behavior, make your criticism about the issue, not them personally. Don’t just say: you gossiped! that is wrong! Try instead: I’m concerned about the gossip and I’m hoping we can put an end to it.

5. Don’t be self-righteous.

It’s all well and good to go high. It’s what you should be doing. But if you start to get really pompous or pious about your own good conduct in the face of rife and rampant gossip, you’re not going to make many allies. Stay casual when dealing with gossip, even when trying to be a good example. It’s not all about you, after all!

About the author

Peter Jones