Office gossip should always be avoided Some people regard office gossip as workplace violence. That may seem drastic, but it does have the ability to destroy lives, and it can do so in a variety of treacherous ways. Companies certainly don't like the gossip and employee manuals typically go to great lengths to make this clear; it breeds distrust and contempt amongst coworkers, while lowering morale and productivity.
In all but a very few instances, you're safest, and your professional life is most secure, by remaining above the chatter.
Let's take a look at how the law tries to draw a line between harmless chatter and harmful accusation, how you can keep clear from getting caught up in office gossip and not become its victim, and finally how you can actually use office gossip to your advantage.
Chatter, gossip or defamation of character?
In an office setting, it can be difficult to know when idle office gossip crosses the line and becomes something far more serious, like defamation of character. In this instance the United States Codes have a definition: In short, defamation is false information which "injures" another person, and it considers three types: You were aware that the information was untrue.
You had reason to believe that the information could be untrue, yet you did not bother to thoroughly check. The information was of such a broad, generalized nature that it simply could not be true. Thus, unless you know it to be true and can prove it if necessary, don't succumb to the allure of office gossip.
Almost without exception, the smartest decision is to avoid office gossip altogether, but this is easier said than done, especially when casual break-room conversations cross the line without you being entirely aware. Train yourself to recognize key words and topics; ones that have the potential to harm someone. These include: Criminal behavior. This may refer to activities outside of the office, professional malpractice or rumors of someone earning a promotion through sex or bribery.
- Alcoholism or drug addiction.
- Infidelity. in marriage or a relationship.
- Anything the general public would regard as reprehensible (racism, sexual deviance).
- Anything that reveals personal medical information (contagious diseases, etc.).
- Negative information about employment (bad performance evaluations, reasons for getting fired).
- Sexuality. This includes any comments or speculation over someone's sexual activities or persuasion.
Talk About It: Office Gossip
These are fairly strict guidelines in real life and are probably violated in some form on a daily basis in any number of office settings. But this isn't the point; it's not about what you or others can get away with in a more relaxed environment, it's about what people can become sufficiently offended by to file a lawsuit against you, the company or both.
Don't fall victim to it
Office gossip has many ways to hurt you, too. You can be the unintended subject of gossip that's simply nasty or unflattering or of gossip that's damaging to your professional or personal life. You can be its sucker as well, falling for nonsense simply because it sounds good, then finding yourself having to answer to your juvenile participation in it all. If office gossip is done in e-mails, you are especially at risk -- don't think your written correspondence is unreadable and private.
It is notoriously easy to fall victim to office gossip, so always take caution in what you tell others about yourself and your extracurricular activities -- whether they involve co-workers or not. Your professional persona is at stake, so keep a lid on getting trashed and laid over the weekend; stay mum on your search for another job or how difficult your boss can be, and remember to remain professional in all conversations.
Additionally, learn to take everything you hear with a massive grain of salt, regardless of the source. The office gossip is likely third-hand or worse, meaning people have put their spin or interpretation on it, embellishing the original story and further separating it from the truth.
Make it work for you
For the most part, you should use discretion and avoid getting involved in office gossip. There is, however, at least one exception: if you approach the running stream of office gossip as a conduit of news and information, it has some potential benefits -- if you're careful. For example:
About the company:
Use office gossip to learn about upcoming projects that might interest you or promotions possibly available in the future.
About bosses or executives:
Use office gossip to learn about certain personality traits or interests that can help you relate to these people when pitching an idea, or giving you something to talk about when alone with them in certain situations. Just don't be obvious about it.
About your achievements:
Use office gossip to drop subtle information about something you're proud of, so that maybe it'll reach the right ears. Again, subtlety is the key -- you don't want people to interpret this as bragging, because that's what will make it down the line, not the achievement.
It's naïve to think that an office that employs adults will function accordingly. People are people; we love a good story, and some folks never quite escape that adolescent need to talk about others. Yet when you probe the motivations of office gossip, you find someone with such low self-esteem that they're willing to sell out anyone. Successful people withdraw from it all. They practice discretion and earn the trust others have in them, in large part by steering clear of office gossip. So prove you're the better man and walk away from the watercooler.