As much fun as it is to gossip, the hard fact is that gossip can hurt people. And it can hurt longtime relationships. And when it comes to gossip at work, you’re opening the door to serious and lasting damage. Even if your intentions were totally innocent.
While seemingly harmless at first, workplace gossip can do real harm to your workplace relationships. And that can wind up coming back to bite you – leaving a lasting impression you might never undo.
So what is gossip?
In simplest terms, when you share personal and / or private information about someone with another person(s), that’s gossip. Even if the information is true (and so often it’s just rumor or half truths), you’re making someone else the topic of idle chatter.
Workplace gossip can be especially seductive. As we all know too well, work can be boring at times. Gossip is often juicy and provides a nice break in the routine. It also opens the door to lots of maybes and what ifs, which can get passed on as fact along with the original bit of gossip.
Ways gossip at work can hurt
Sometimes, it starts innocently enough. A coworker wants to tell you some tasty news they just heard about your boss. Or you happen to know something about another coworker you’re dying to share.
Of course, people pass on workplace gossip all the time. And usually life goes on. Not the worst thing, as long as you take what you’re hearing with a grain of salt — until you know for sure. And as long as you don’t do it too often.
But for some, the excitement of being “in the know” or gabbing about coworkers becomes a daily habit. And it can become more interesting than the job itself. That’s when it can get dangerous.
Negative side of work gossip
- encourages rumors
- turns rumors into “facts”
- leads to loss of trust
- lies get spread
- emotions get inflamed
- small incidents get blown out of proportion
- atmosphere becomes charged with negative chatter
- teamwork and overall work product get affected
- people become targets and get hurt
- boomerang gossip (comes back to bite you)
- once gossiper found out, resentment has a long memory
- gossip at work can affect your success
Gossipers get known as lightweights
In addition to all else, when you gossip at work on a regular basis, the word gets out. Often from fellow gossipers. And you start to get a reputation that is NOT about your substance or ability.
Even if it feels unfair, things like this can stick. And make you seem like a person coworkers might think twice about before inviting you into a conversation. Or as part of a new project.
You might be thinking “But I don’t gossip. I only share information I think is useful.” Well, I’m going to tell you a personal story that might get you to think twice about that.
My innocent “gossip at work” story
In a prior job, I had a boss we all respected. And we made it a point to support her in every way we could think of. One day a coworker I trusted (who was also trusted by our boss) came to me worried our boss was making a mistake.
Since this coworker was someone I had worked with for many years, I assumed if he came to me it was private. And so I spoke with him openly about the situation, in this case a fellow manager who was clearly trying to deceive our boss.
This became our new topic of discussion. Every day, we shared new information and tried to think of ways to help our boss. I always felt that I had the best of intentions. But looking back I was also enjoying these secret chats, which added spice to the day.
How it turned out
My boss eventually found out that I was “plotting behind her back” (her take on things) and undercutting her authority. It seems I had unknowingly passed on some information to my fellow gossiper that he did not have. And when my boss learned about it, she never trusted me again.
Who let her know all this? The same coworker who I trusted. My fellow gossip. My longtime work friend. And he did it in a way that left him clean of all blame. A hard lesson well learned. Even what may seem harmless and helpful, can be seen as a betrayal.
What could I have done differently? I could have listened to my coworker and cut it short. Then I could have explored the situation a bit more before going to my boss to discuss. In effect, I didn’t trust her enough — and the result tainted our relationship for many years.
More about gossip at work
Look … we all know that people like to gossip. A little bit can be fine. But before getting caught up in workplace gossip, try to put yourself in the place of the person being discussed.
How would they feel hearing what you’re saying? Are you really helping anyone, or just providing some workday entertainment for you and a colleague. At the expense of someone else’s feelings.
Also, how will your gossip sessions eventually reflect on you? Do they make you seem like someone people want to work with and trust? Would you trust someone that you found out is gossiping about you?
Knowing someone has been gossiping about me sure would leave me less than open to working with them. Or recommending them for higher level work. Worth thinking about.
⇒ EXTRA: Dealing With Workplace Drama
Some articles to help