1. Watch out for danger
The longer you participate in a gossip session, the harder it is to walk away. So watch out for early signs that a conversation is deteriorating into negative gossip. For example, phrases like “did you hear about…” or “don’t tell anyone else but…” might precede gossip. Or people might look over their shoulders and lower their voices. When these things happen, be ready to act.
2. Say ‘no thanks’
Politely point out that the conversation isn’t productive. Say something like “I feel uncomfortable talking about Jess when she’s not here. Can we talk about something else?” Make sure you use a warm tone of voice when communicating this message. You’re aiming to set a limit, not judge others’ behaviour.
3. Shift direction
Turn the conversation in a positive direction. This might mean simply changing the subject altogether. Or, it might involve gently challenging the gossiper’s behaviour. For example, you might ask “If you really believe Linda is trying to undermine you, how can you sort things out with her?” This question focuses the speaker on their own part in the relationship. Because it is solution focussed, it also redirects them towards positive action.
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4. Highlight consequences
Negative gossip sometimes needs to be dealt with formally. For example, if gossip is being used to undermine or humiliate a colleague, there may be a deeper problem in the team. You might need to report the problem to your supervisor. If possible, speak to your colleagues before reporting gossip. Point out that gossip can cause serious damage. Then request that they stop. This gives them a chance to change their behaviour and avoid being reported.
5. If necessary, report it
Start by talking informally with your supervisor. Ask for their help managing the gossip. Let them know how it is impacting on you personally, as well as the team. Remind them of the negative impact gossip can have on the business. Fill them in on the conversations you’ve had with those engaging in negative gossip. Then request that your supervisor take action.