What Kind of Office Gossip Are You?

Five Common Rumormongers

By: Robert Half International

Let’s face it: People like to talk … especially about each other. And at work, dishing about co-workers is part of almost every corporate culture, at least to a certain extent. After all, if you spend eight hours or more each day with the same people, you’re bound to swap stories with your colleagues from time to time.

For the most part, these casual conversations are healthy, leading to stronger work relationships and improved camaraderie. Then again, co-workers who spread ugly rumors or gossip can negatively affect the office environment and create friction.

Following are five common types of office gossips you may encounter in your career and tips on how to deal with them:

– The Tape Recorder

You confess to a colleague that you’re worried about your supervisor, who hasn’t been very focused the last three weeks and has been coming in late to work. Later that day, like a game of office telephone, you hear a version of your story from a different co-worker, and it’s not hard to figure out the source. The Tape Recorder takes your confidential conversations and plays them back to everyone in the office. The person’s motivation is often to feel important or “in the know” rather than any malicious intent.

You need to be on your toes when interacting with this person. Keep conversations focused on business projects and tasks. Small talk is fine, but anything you want to stay private, whether it’s about an upcoming date or your unhappiness with a new project, should not be shared with this individual.

– The Marathoner

This is the co-worker who shows up at your desk and, even if you’re busy, insists on sharing all of the “juicy” news she’s heard — about a colleague, a co-worker’s sister and even friends of friends you’ve never met. She will gossip over coffee in your cube that morning, bring up more information when you run into her in the break room and then try to engage you again when you both exit the building that night.

Your best approach with the Marathoner is to cut her off at the pass: Try to change the subject when there is a pause in the conversation. You can also simply say you’re busy at the moment and need to concentrate on your work. If you do this enough, she’ll get the hint. If you have to talk to her for a business purpose, get the information you need and politely tell her you must get back to your projects.

– The Double Agent

This individual plays both sides. He gossips to you about the boss, then turns around and talks to the boss about you — and he’ll exhibit the same behavior with your colleagues. Unfortunately, a Double Agent’s secret is not usually revealed until you get burned by something you’ve shared with him.

It’s best not to voice negative feelings about an individual or the company to this person. In fact, be very circumspect in what you tell a Double Agent, as he may even take a casual remark and twist it out of context. If you’ve had a run-in with a Double Agent, your best course of action is to have a straightforward conversation with him about his actions. He may not change, but he’ll know you won’t be an easy target.

– The Scent Hound

This individual shows up seeking information when the office is abuzz with speculation. For example, after a high-ranking employee has left the company, the official word from management is that the job will be awarded to an internal employee. This has been the only official word, though, and the Scent Hound is looking for more.

When dealing with the Scent Hound, your best move is to avoid guessing games. For example, if this co-worker asks you about the open position, answer honestly. Say that you have no idea who will get the job, but you know that whoever it is will be well-qualified for the role. Most of all, avoid playing along by speculating about the situation. More information will just encourage the Scent Hound to dig deeper.

– The Complainer

This person regularly discusses his grievances with you — and everyone else in the office. While it’s natural to vent when you are frustrated, there’s a difference between confiding in someone you trust and routinely complaining to anyone who will listen. This individual makes sharing candid thoughts a hobby: One week, he’s unhappy with Joe in accounting; the next he’s surprised by the subpar performance of Liz in marketing.

Since the Complainer thrives on interacting with other complainers, your best tactic is to resist engaging in the conversation when this colleague starts talking about his latest target. You’ll feed the fire if you say that you’ve also had issues with Joe in accounting, for example. You’ll likely take the wind out of the Complainer’s sails, however, if you begin talking about the positive attributes of the individual he’s discussing.

When it comes to office gossip, think of how you’d like others to respond to hearsay about you. Diplomatically avoiding the workplace rumor mill is a good way to show your colleagues, and your manager, that you are trustworthy, dependable and professional.

About Amr Badran

An Egyptian Business Consultant and Corporate Trainer since 1997. I've trained on Management, Leadership and Soft Skills to thousands of people from many nationalities, backgrounds and professions in more than 10 countries across the Middle and Far East. Holder of an MBA and a Candidate for Doctorate in Business. Find more about my Management and Personal Skills Courses at AmrBadran.com and feel free contacting me at Amr@AmrBadran.com
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