When we leave school, we set off into the big wide world believing that we have left the playground politics behind but for most, the sad truth is that it follows us to work; this can feel particularly real when we are new to a job and it also poses the question of how heavily we should get involved in the network of gossip and insinuations when it surrounds us. Many workers report that office politics, hearsay and gossip is the biggest part of their company culture. Not only does it happen, it happens all the time, everywhere and filters through every layer of the organisation.
When you work in a company where it is part and parcel of everyday life it can be suffocating, not only because it is mentally and physically draining weighing up all the conversations you may become party to but knowing what to do with that information and how it may impact your allegiances with colleagues at work, after all you may be on the lookout for promotion or hoping to seek further advancement opportunities in terms of training and exposure. Knowing what to do when you are on the receiving end of some news about others is a lesson that you won’t be trained in formally at work!
- Distance yourself from it: You can’t help it if you become party to a conversation about someone else in the organisation but you can help how you play out the scenario. When the focus of the gossip is a character assassination about a member of staff, the gossiper is often looking for you to add backing to their claims and add your own spin on the affair, so what they are really trying to achieve is for you to become complicit in their bad-mouthing. You must be careful at this point that you don’t become embroiled in becoming their ally and, you unintentionally wind up being labelled as one of the perpetrators of the office gossip.This can be easier said than done but if you are equipped with some quick responses that you’ll be able to walk away with your head held high. “I don’t know them very well so I couldn’t really comment on their actions,” or “I haven’t experienced that side of their character, they have always acted appropriately when I have encountered them.” These kinds of replies will allow you to separate your experience of them from the one that you are hearing about and in turn ensure you are not contributing to staining their character whilst at the same time not offending the gossiper by shutting down their theories completely.
- Avoid the gossiper: Often there is one person who just can’t help themselves from spreading the rumours. Once you have identified who that is try to avoid situations in which you may become involved in uncomfortable conversations. If this isn’t always possible try to surround yourselves with colleagues so that you have back-up and it doesn’t spiral into a ‘your word against theirs’ situation.
- Keep the rumours to yourself: Even if you have followed points two and three it may be inevitable that you are party to some information you’d rather not hear. At this point you have a choice what to do with it. Obviously, it depends on the nature of the gossip but if it seems harmless as opposed to anything that may lean dangerously close to corporate fraud then you can just choose to retain it in your inner consciousness and leave it at that.Ask yourself what good it would do if you did anything with the news anyway? If the answer is it would just draw a crowd but then you would feel immediately terrible that you had betrayed trust, the answer is staring you in the face. Of course, there are times when it is appropriate to escalate the nature of what you have heard, particularly if it involves corporate matters that may put the business in danger or ruin its reputation.
- Steer the gossip towards problem-solving: Some office gossip stems from a dissatisfaction with the way things are being run, staff pay levels, promotion opportunities or jealousy over the way some are treated. This is different to talking about individuals. If this is the case then a good thing to do is to start asking the group how they would do things differently and turn the negativity into a positive.This may also be a good opportunity to flag up some issues with the leadership who may be blissfully unaware that there is some bad-feeling at grass roots level, it may even be a way for you to get noticed by management if you can demonstrate you have displayed initiative and can come up with suggestions and solutions.Office gossip can be waring, dangerous and drag you down. Knowing how to handle it is a huge asset that will help you protect your reputation, keep you focussed on the reasons you go to work and do the job and ensure that you don’t damage your chances of getting on and getting ahead.