Case study: How to handle gossip

Although Elaine likes her new job, her coworkers tend to gossip. Elaine frequently feels uncomfortable, but doesn’t know whether to speak up or keep quiet.

People talk about others. But when talk becomes negative or personal it moves from conversation to gossip. As Elaine’s uncomfortable with what’s being said, there’s a good chance the topic of conversation won’t like it either. Here’s how we’d help Elaine deal with this problem. You can use the same strategies to tackle gossip in your workplace.

Be assertive

If Elaine passively listens to the gossip, people may infer that she accepts what is being said or is joining in. Elaine must be assertive and show that she is not participating.

Practise active disinterest

One way to be assertive is to actively show disinterest. Elaine could do this by being obviously busy while the others gossip. She could start a conversation about another topic. Walk away from her desk and do something else. These are subtle ways of letting her coworkers know she’s not going to play. This may not stop the gossiping, but they may do it out of her earshot in future.

Expose the gossip for what it is

Asking questions (how did you hear about that? on what basis did you reach that conclusion?) may show the gossip up for what it is – rumour rather than fact. Elaine could do this in a non-confrontational way, but she could end up getting drawn into the conversation.

Another tactic is to counter gossip with fact. If Elaine highlights the true facts this may expose the flimsiness of the gossip’s information. Elaine must be careful that she can reveal the facts without breaching someone else’s trust.

Approach the boss

Depending on what’s being said, Elaine’s boss may be best placed to put paid to rumours with real information. Elaine may want to give the heads up to her boss that the gossiping is happening.

Be direct

Although Elaine’s nervous of upsetting her coworkers, being direct is often the best idea. Without coming across as judgemental, Elaine could simply say that she feels uncomfortable with what’s being said. Chances are that Elaine will be respected for her honesty and trusted by her boss and coworkers for her integrity.

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