How to tackle workplace gossip

I’m sure you've found yourself in a situation at work where you’re “in the zone” and then a colleague has approached you just to vent about someone else? By the time they’ve finished, you’ve lost your momentum, you feel burdened by your colleagues’ frustrations and you’re probably frustrated with them!

These situations continuously occur across the world, every single day. If someone has an issue, whether it be with a manager, colleague or maybe even a relationship outside of work, what do people do? Do they effectively address that issue with the person they have a problem with? Unlikely. More often than not, people share their frustrations with anyone except the person they have a problem with.

Yet, gossip only serves as short-term relief from problems without actually solving them. By gossiping about others, it creates a negative and bias narrative that takes focus and energy away from resolving the problem by speaking with the right person. It’s also a significant distraction for the person hearing the gossip.

So, when someone stops by to interrupt your day with their problems, what can you do?

Option 1: Sympathise

This is the easiest option, all you need to do is nod your head in agreement until the vent is over so you can go back to work and continue with your day. This may be the easiest option but you’re agreeing with the wrong intentions because nothing is resolved and the same thing will only happen again in the future.

Option 2: Defend

Arguably, this option is just as ineffective as the first. Instead of agreeing, you defend the person not in the conversation and maybe even try to rationalise their point of view. It might feel like you’re helping the situation, but it won’t lead to a resolution and worse still you’ll probably just end up antagonising your colleague, break the trust in the relationship and be seen to be ‘taking sides’.

Option 3: Coach

You recognise that a conversation needs to happen between your colleagues, a conversation that doesn’t involve you. You can still offer support and teach your colleague how to speak up, but with the intent of seeking a resolution, not being involved in idle gossip. When employees have the skills to hold the right conversation with the right person, we can significantly reduce the time and effort wasted by gossip and the complex work-arounds created to avoid dealing with a difficult issue.