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Redirecting Gossip

Gossip has been defined as sharing information about the person’s matters of others, or their private behavior. Sometimes, this information is non-factual, while in other times it may be factual, but embellishing with a colorful twist. Gossip has been part of human interaction for thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks had a goddess of gossip named Pheme. She delighted in ruffling feathers. The hard truth is that gossip harms workplace productivity. In a recent CareerBuilder’s study of over 5,000 professionals, that asked about their top ten list of enemies in workplace productivity, gossip was ranked number two, just behind texting.

Gossip happens only when the person of interest is not present. So, gossip is not used only to put down a target, or criticize someone, the gossiper may seek personal gains. They may use it to seek the attention of others, to gain power, or to become accepted into a group where they are an outsider. The commiserating nature of gossip sometimes creates a sense of belonging for the gossiper, as odd as that may sound. This is our list of responses to a common gossip line we‘ve heard in the workplace. See if any of this applies to you, and try it next time you get cornered at the copy machine.

First, Clarify Your Role

“Can you believe how Scott lost it at the meeting?” This is a comment from a colleague who’s commenting on another colleague’s behavior at a staff meeting she did not attend. Do they want your opinion? Want you just to hear them out, or do they want more information? This is standard listening etiquette, but when you clarify your role, the clarification may disarm the gossiper. You can say, “Are you telling me about what you heard “or do you wanna know what I think?

Paraphrase for closure

Paraphrasing is a good habit to adopt when you wanna show that you’re listening attentively. This type of reflective listening helps you build rapport with the speaker, as you try to show that you grasp their intent and emotion. With a gossiper, paraphrasing may keep them from continuing the information flow, so you can say, “You think he acted “unprofessionally at the meeting?

Try to understand

This is your chance to separate facts from fiction by asking the gossiper open-ended questions.This also helps you understand their intent. It’s important that you do not engage in the conversation or share your opinion, just try to understand. You could say, “You do not think “he handled himself professionally?” “What do you think might have been Scott’s motivation?” 

Empathize with the target

This is your chance to side with the person of interest and help the gossiper do the same, so you could say, “Did Scott have a reason to be upset about what was being discussed? “Has this happened in the past?” This may be history repeating itself and Scott doesn’t wanna be part of it again.

Call them on it for Redirecting Gossip

When interacting with a gossiper, you should be civil and professional, and reduce drama by not providing an opportunity for co-commiserating. If you show empathy for the subject, and you don’t buy into the negative commentary, the gossiper will either change the subject, or go to someone else that will engage them more. Redirecting the gossiper may take a little bit of planning ahead of time, but will help you be more productive in the long run.

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