There’s nothing quite as tempting (and okay: exciting) as a juicy piece of information. After all, many magazines have built their fortunes on sharing the ‘secret’ lives of the rich and famous. For most people, though, gossiping is a pastime at the office or within our social circles, based on information that maybe is — or isn’t — true.
Not all gossiping is bad; sometimes, it can help create camaraderie or identify potential solutions by navigating problems, but most of the time, it’s frowned upon at workplaces, says Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume. Because gossiping can erode working relationships and create a toxic environment, Augustine says it may cross the line to harassment. “When someone is spreading lies or half-truths about others with the intent to demean, hurt, or embarrass a colleague or call their reputation into question, then they’re using gossip to undermine others passive-aggressively,” she explains.
In addition to damaging trust and reducing productivity, gossiping about others doesn’t make you look professional — and could lead to a pink slip. Rather than impacting your performance, reputation, and the company culture, challenge yourself (and others) to end the toxic cycle of gossiping. Here’s how.
Meet the Experts
Amanda Augustine is a career expert for TopResume.
Kelley Bonner is a company culture strategist.
Jennifer Kelman, LCSW, is a mental health expert on JustAnswer.
First, consider why you are gossiping.
As with any issue, getting to the root of the cause can help you better understand why you feel the need to talk negatively behind someone’s back. Most of the time, gossiping is often a result of when we feel our boundaries are violated, says Kelley Bonner, a company culture strategist.
While some people gossip out of jealousy, she explains often; people participate in this behavior when they feel slighted by a person, or they feel powerless to stop. Rather than listening to our little sense of guilt, we go with what feels comfortable and shoot off another text or Slack message.
To figure out what’s prompting you, Bonner suggests starting by answering these questions:
- What are the emotions behind the need to engage or listen to a negative conversation?
- Are you angry?
- Do you feel betrayed?
- Are you gossiping as an alternative to speaking up about something bothering you?
Ask for help and accountability.
Think about the last time you tried cleaning up your diet or committed to a fitness plan. Rather than going at it alone, you recruited a friend to be your partner through the journey. No matter what type of habit you’re trying to break or create, a support system makes a significant difference. Augustine says to enlist a co-worker you trust to be your accountability buddy. “When they catch you gossiping, they can let you know with a subtle signal, so you become better at avoiding certain situations that trigger your gossiping ways,” she says.
In addition to having someone who will prevent you from slipping up at your office, Augustine says it can also be helpful to have someone outside of work to dish to. This should be someone you consider a safe outlet, a dear friend or partner who isn’t connected to your professional life. “You might only allow yourself to share workplace gossip with your best friend who has nothing to do with your company or industry,” she says. “This will allow you to get the gossip out of your system without causing any damage to your work relationships.”
Proactively set boundaries.
Once you’ve reflected on the source of your gossiping habit and you’ve enlisted your support team, Bonner says it’s time to think about how you can proactively set a boundary with your company — or even friendship — to bring back positive feelings to the relationship.
“When it comes to a company, instead of spending your time complaining or gossiping about something you don’t like, think about ways to fix the policy you have a problem with, and speak to management,” she says. This allows you to think in a solution-oriented way and encourages you to be honest about how you feel. If you don’t feel like anything can change your feelings or your toxic environment after this soul-searching, it’s time to seek other employment.
As scary as confrontation can be, Bonner says if you gossip about a friend, it’s time to have a difficult conversation about what is bothering you. “Be honest with yourself and your friend about the current state of the relationship and think about ways you can better communicate with each other,” she shares.
Figure out if it’s helpful or harmful.
As you start to put your game plan into place, there may be moments when you really, really want to go back to your old ways. Especially if the nugget you recently learned would really wow and dazzle someone else. When you’re in this situation, take a moment and ask yourself if the information you are about to share is helpful or harmful to another person, recommends Jennifer Kelman, LCSW, a mental health expert on JustAnswer.
And what about if someone approaches you to gossip? She says to stop the conversation before it goes further by throwing the question back to them. “If you don’t need to know then you can simply say, ‘I think it would be better that you keep the information to yourself, and I don’t want to be a part of spreading gossip even if the information is true,’” she says.
Make a goal to be the safe place.
Rather than being the Queen Bee of the Chatty Cathies, Brenner says to set a new goal for yourself by being the colleague or friend that everyone can depend on to be honest and trustworthy. “If your friends and coworkers know you are trustworthy, they can come to you and know that what they share doesn’t go any further,” she says. “This enriches your relationships and you gain so much more by being true and authentic in all relationships.”