What many don’t realize is that gossip at work is indicative of a lack of compassionate directness. After all, if you’re telling people exactly what you think, it should reduce the impulse to chatter behind closed doors. “Organizations that have a high degree of openness and trust tend to have less gossip and rumors,” Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., a professor of organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, tells Thrive. “The best way to deal with gossip from a leadership perspective is to create a culture of open communication.”
If work gossip is the norm in your office, it’s likely causing you additional stress, and it could be holding you back from being happy at work. Here are a few expert-backed ways to avoid it:
Practice being more upfront
Being upfront is not only OK — it’s a necessity in a healthy work environment. “Gossip typically consists of rumors about the organization or about people in the organization, and they can often be inaccurate,” Riggio points out. “Dealing with rumors directly can not only provide additional clarity, but it can relieve the stress that comes with its uncertainty.” Being direct may be uncomfortable at first, but doing so can also make you feel empowered, adds Liane Davey, Ph.D., author of You First and The Good Fight. “When a colleague starts gossiping about someone on the team, it can make us feel caught in between a rock and a hard place,” she tells Thrive. “Office gossip is stressful because it forces us to choose our tribe, but you can reduce some of that stress with your own directness.”
Differentiate between gossip and venting
“It’s important that people differentiate between venting and gossip,” Davey notes. “Venting is just having a safe place to release the pressure that’s building up.” It’s natural to open up to our colleagues about what’s bothering us, but Davey says you should follow one rule to make sure you don’t cross the line into gossip territory: “You can only talk about yourself, not someone who isn’t in the room.” Expressing your frustration about your own hard work can be healthy and often quite helpful, but when you start badmouthing a colleague, that’s where the gossip starts, and it can negatively impact your own outlook, Davey notes. “Some of the stress is just feeling sheepish about engaging in what we know is destructive behavior.”
Redirect the conversation
You may think that simply listening to the office chatter is harmless, but keeping quiet can still change your view of various people at your workplace, and taint your view of the company you work for. Instead, Davey suggests redirecting the conversation, and doing so in a way that’s constructive instead of dismissive. “If someone gossips to you, redirect them by either addressing their grievance constructively… or helping them reframe how they’re thinking,” she suggests. By offering helpful feedback and helping your colleague see a given situation in a different light, you can help turn office chatter into a constructive conversation.