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Career Connexion 

 Workplace gossip

Gossip by definition is “a casual conversation or unsubstantiated reports about other people” (Oxford English Dictionary). It is one of the oldest and most common means of sharing facts and views. Gossip also has a reputation for inconsistency. The integrity is lost given that the information gets transmitted in different variations.

We’ve all experienced it and most of us have engaged in idle exchanges of information at one time or another, not only in our everyday lives but also at work. Gossip can be found in just about every workplace, but have you ever thought about why people do it? Knowing full well that an environment where people spend a lot of time undermining their co-worker’s reputation is not a healthy place?

We have our own theories, but I think the main reason why people gossip is because they want to feel more popular. They want to attract attention and they want to feel that they belong. In other words, people gossip because they feel powerless when they are not in the know – and as such, not in control of the current situation. Gossip is their attempt to regain that control.

It’s very easy to get drawn into the grapevine circle and often difficult to resist. However the ramifications could hurt relationships with peers and co-workers.

Say nice things about other people. Ever heard of the psychological phenomenon, “spontaneous trait transference?” Studies show that when a person attributes a trait to someone, the receiver of that information will often associate those traits to that person. For instance, if Don tells Maria that Juan is arrogant, unconsciously Maria will associate that quality with Don. However, if Don tells Maria that Juan is down-to-earth, Maria’s perception of Don will be positive.

Think first before you speak. Common sense would dictate that it’s just wise to think first before you speak. Ask yourself the following questions before saying anything:

  • Is what I’m about to say necessary? Or harmless?

  • How would I feel if someone said something similar to me?

  • How would I feel after saying this?

  • Is gossiping aligned with my personal values?

Be busy. It’s a given fact that people who gossip want attention or people who have a lot of time in their hands. To avoid gossip, show them that you are pre-occupied with your work. Time is precious and if you’re seen delving into your work, it’s clear that you can’t be available to appreciate their latest news.

Be private. As a general rule, keep your private life private. Trusting too much personal information with co-workers can be detrimental. Remember, if gossipers talk about others, you’re no different. You could easily be the next subject of conversation.

Don’t participate and don’t get involved. If there is a juicy story spreading around work, let it stop with you by not passing it on any further. Take personal responsibility to act with integrity. Another technique too is to let the gossiper finish, and don’t engage him or her by saying anything back. This way they will quickly learn that you are not interested in gossiping.

There is much to be gained by declining the opportunity to talk about people while at work. With conscious effort and fervour, doing your part in fostering a healthy gossip-free working environment can derail the harmful effects of damaging gossips.

CNN – “Harmless office chitchat - or poisonous gossip?” (November 12, 20007)
Today – “Office gossip has never travelled faster, ‘thanks’ to tech” (September 9, 2007)


Michele Majul is an HR Professional with Canada Post Corporation in Prairie Region. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Human Resource Management. E-mail her at