Gossip, when it negatively affects a person, organization or business, needs to be stopped. Gossip is most broadly defined as, “any conversation between two or more people about another person who is not there,” according to an article in a 2004 issue of the Review of General Psychology. Whether the gossip is about you or someone else, if it is negative, it needs to be stopped before it damages someone's self-confidence or leads to problems in the workplace.
Ask yourself what the intent of the gossip is. Is it just to strengthen a relationship through conversation or is it intended to hurt someone else? Sixty-five percent of conversations involved gossip, but only 5 percent of that gossip was negative, according to one study by psychologist Robin Dunbar, published in the journal Human Nature. The rest of the gossip was on social happenings and used to strengthen relationships.
Choose not to spread the gossip any further. Others might follow your example.
Change the subject or ask the person to consider the feelings of the person that is the subject of the gossip. Say, “I'd rather talk about something positive,” or “How do you think this makes John feel?”
Talk to others before they hear the gossip and disprove it or get people to sympathize with you. For example, if there’s gossip about you talking badly about someone, talk to that person or others and explain how much you like that person. Inviting the person over and hanging out is another way to disprove the gossip.
Figure out why someone gossips and try to help him change his ways. People might gossip to feel better about themselves, because they’re bored, they’re jealous, they want to fit in, for attention or because they’re angry, according to psychologist Alison Poulsen.
Gossip in the Workplace
Get your facts straight. Ensure you have the full story before you confront someone about the gossip. Talk to supervisors who oversee those involved with the gossip and to others who might have heard the rumors, but didn’t spread them.
Talk to anyone involved with the gossip. Choose a private location and speak to each person individually.
Explain the consequences of the gossip to the instigator if it continues. This might include filing a warning, a demotion and even letting him go from his job.
Gather the entire department or company, if necessary, to give everyone an opportunity to voice any concerns. Ask employees to submit questions anonymously to a suggestion box ahead of time so you can prepare answers for the meeting, suggests business adviser and former CEO Janine Popick.
Explain any leadership or company decisions that might be the focus of the gossip to clear up misunderstandings. Answer honestly if the company made any sort of mistake that resulted in the gossip.
Share positive stories about employees to foster positive gossip. Make a point to share these stories at every staff meeting, recommends career coach Lisa Quast in an article the Forbes website.
- Inc.com: 4 Ways to Stop Negative Office Gossip
- Forbes.com: New Managers -- 5 Ways to Stop Negative Office Gossip
- PBS Kids: Gossip and Rumors -- Breaking the Chain
- Alison Poulsen, PhD Blog: Why People Gossip and How to Avoid It
- HealthGuidance: How to Stop Rumors
- American Psychological Association: Have You Heard the Latest?
- American Psychological Association: Bonding Over Others' Business
- Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language; Robin Dunbar
- XiXinXing/XiXinXing/Getty Images