By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer
In any office there will always be people who speculate about co-workers and their motives, but when it turns into rumor-mongering or outright lies, gossip can wreck careers and reputations. Finding out that people are talking behind your back at work can be devastating. It can also take a hit on team cohesion, morale and productivity.
To get yourself back on track when rumors start to fly, consider these four approaches.
Address the Instigator
If you find out people are talking about you in an intrusive or inappropriate way, you can address it directly, says Elliot Lasson, executive director of Joblink of Maryland
. “Gossip may in fact be a form of verbal harassment.”
Lasson recommends approaching the instigator in private and politely but firmly expressing your displeasure. “Workplaces must be professional and therefore gossip-neutral or gossip-free. A rule of thumb to express might be ‘if you would not be saying that about me in my presence, then it should be avoided.’”
The People’s HR
founder Deanna Arnold agrees you should take the direct approach. “The employee should address the situation in a non-confrontational way with the person that is at the root of the gossiping. Talk to the gossiper about any potential issues and ask them to not talk any further about them.”
This includes comments on social media, Lasson adds. Check with your organization’s digital code of conduct if you think someone may be violating it with online gossip.
Give the Gossiper a Way to Save Face
As part of your non-confrontational approach, keep it light, says Karin Hunt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders
. “Maintain a sense of humor as you confront the gossiper. ‘I heard the craziest thing’” can be a lighthearted way of opening the confrontation. Or you can try asking “‘How do you think someone could get that impression?’” to see what the gossiper might have to say.
“Most importantly, take the high road,” Hunt says. “Never fight gossip with gossip.”
Think About It
While gossip is often hurtful and not productive at all, there are sometimes ways to make it useful, says Lindsay Jefferson, a marketer at LIDA360
. “While hearing gossip about yourself in the workplace is not fun, it is actually quite a gift. The people who are gossiping about you have just alerted you to a perception brewing, and that perception can spread and grow if you don’t take action.”
Jefferson doesn’t recommend paying attention to everything said around the water cooler, but to look for patterns in your perceived behavior and important insights about how people see you. “As we all know, perception is reality, and how others see you affects their desire to work with you and give you opportunities,” she says.
Gossip is a distraction at work, and can cross the line into harassment. Don’t hesitate to bring in HR if there’s a problem you can’t solve on your own, says Sheila A. Dramis, CEO of Human Resource Partners Inc. and Lowden & Associates
. “The majority of employers have an employee handbook that prohibits harassment.” If the gossiper doesn’t stop after your confrontation, it can be considered harassment, she says. Document it and report it.