Taylor Tobin

Have a work-related problem you’d like to talk through with other smart professionals? The Fairygodboss Discussion Board serves that exact purpose. You’ll find threads, started by women, addressing numerous career concerns and workplace woes, like this one: 

“Yesterday, I overheard three colleagues speaking about how I ‘smell bad’. They then all began to discuss my appearance; as I have two small kids, I don’t have a lot of time [to spend on] this. Do I confront them for speaking about me during work hours in front of clients?”

Whether about personal or work issues, office gossip has a toxic effect on staff morale and can compromise professional trust and collaboration. Fairygodboss looked to career experts and members of the FGB community for tips on how to take the high road when workplace chatter gets you down.

Address personal gossip directly, but be sure to keep your cool.

In an instance like the one described in the discussion board question, it’s often most effective to have a conversation with the gossipy colleagues. However, it’s important (albeit difficult) to keep emotions in check when raising the issue. In response to this discussion thread, an anonymous FGB'er offered this sage advice:

I do think you could confront them; you might be most effective if you're able to do it in a calm way that indicates to them that you're hurt rather than angry. ‘Killing with kindness’ really can work; if they sense that you're angry or combative, that may only escalate tension and make things worse. If you approach them in a way that they don't see as threatening, they'll likely be apologetic and realize that they should refrain from this kind of hurtful gossip at work (and otherwise!).”

When casual conversation takes a turn into gossip territory, “distract and redirect.”

Developing workplace friendships can take a job from merely tolerable to truly enjoyable, but keeping your conversations professionally appropriate isn’t always easy. When pleasant chats hover dangerously close to mean-spirited gossip, life coach Erica McCurdy recommends a diversion tactic that she calls “distract and redirect”. She explained it to Fairygodboss like so: 

We have all been sucked into a 'gossip' conversation that we wish we could take back. When lighthearted conversation turns to gossip, distract and redirect. You have a million things you can talk about, [so] pick any other one and start talking about it.

Interruption for the sake of shutting down gossip is always permissible.  One great way to stop talking about others is to talk about yourself. Sounds selfish, but as a distraction and gossip stopper, [it’s] perfectly fine. Interrupt to share a funny thing that happened as if you just remembered and can't hold back. Even if your story isn't all that funny, you may have diverted attention away from the gossip long enough to have avoided trouble. 

[Another redirection strategy is to] share another piece of office news that isn't gossip. Ask a question or share information about an upcoming meeting, event or personnel change.”

Create a culture of communication that encourages sharing and discourages gossip.

If your office is a hotbed of work-themed gossip, transparency and clear inter-company communication can limit the spread of troublesome and unsubstantiated rumors. Deborah Sweeney, the CEO of MyCorporation.com, believes that open discussions make employees feel engaged and help keep gossip at bay. "I like to promote open discussion. Often, gossip stems from people assuming they know something – people who have a guess about something but may not be right. I think that open communication is key, especially when it comes to items around the business. This enables people to ask questions and get direct answers rather than speculate about why certain people are working on specific projects or why the business is going in a certain direction,” Sweeney told Fairygodboss.

But what if you work for a company with multiple office locations, where rumors can quickly inflate due to a lack of centralization? According to Sophie Miles, the CEO of CalculatorBuddy.com (a company with employees in three continents), an internal social-networking platform can make employees feel like active participants in the company culture, even if they’re physically far away. “[Companies can] use an internal social network platform to model sincerity and openness on a number of topics. When there are credible channels for the discussion to occur, a concern can be addressed openly rather than metastasized into gossip,” Miles explained.

If you’re a manager, try to be a role model.

Managers who want to train their employees out of malicious chit-chat should start by setting a strong example themselves. Sarah Hague, marketing manager of online retailer Find Me A Gift, offers the following suggestions to those in leadership positions:

However hard it may be, don’t gossip yourself. Often, staff will follow your behavior. If you hear [gossip] going on as a manager, deal with the problem head-on by talking to the people responsible and letting them know [that these actions are] not acceptable.”


Have a question you need answered, or a thought you want to share? See what women are saying about their careers, home lives, and more on the Fairygodboss Discussion Board, and weigh in on the convo.