Taking Control of Negative Gossip
Abbey was fed up with Tom’s gossip about their co-worker, Jim. She felt uncomfortable listening to it, but didn’t know how to stop it.
To Abbey, Jim had always seemed kind and helpful. She disliked hearing from Tom how Jim flirted with women in the department, held a side job, had been married multiple times or that he drove a particular kind of car to impress others. But she never said anything, because she didn’t want to be rude.
Here’s how we’d help Abbey deal with this problem. You can use the same strategies to address workplace gossip.
1. Identify what makes you uncomfortable
Abbey needs to work out what, precisely, is discomforting about Tom’s message. This will help here decide whether to take action. It will also help her plan what to say to Tom. Useful questions to assess what’s bothering you about gossip include:
- Which part of this message would upset the target of the gossip?
- What does this conversation imply about the target?
- What is the intention of the gossiper? Do they mean to hurt or harm their target?
Answering these questions might help Abbey pinpoint the following problems:
- Tom’ s gossip focuses on personal information which Jim would not feel comfortable disclosing at work
- Jim’s implication is that Jim is a womaniser and show-off
- The aim of Jim’s message is to harm Jim’s work relationships and reputation
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2. Feedback the gossip’s ‘meta message’
Abbey needs to let Jim hear how his message comes across. She can use reflective listening techniques to do this. For example, she can say “It sounds like you’re saying Jim is a womaniser.” Useful phrases for starting a reflective statement include:
- What you’re implying is…
- You believe…
- You think…
- Are you saying…?
3. Set a limit
The final part of Abbey’s response needs to be a limit-setting statement. She needs communicate that she’s uncomfortable listening to gossip. Abbey can keep this part of her response simple by saying “I don’t feel comfortable talking about Jim’s personal life like this” or “I’d rather not discuss Jim’s personal relationships. If feels uncomfortable.”
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