Gossip… have you ever been the subject of gossip? How do you feel when you find out? What goes on in your mind? What should you do? Let’s consider an example:
Your boss asked you to lead a meeting that your colleague thought she would be asked to lead. You let him know that Rose thought she would be the one to lead this meeting, but he wanted you to have a chance to hone your presentation skills. Rose is blaming you and gossiping about you to others, accusing you of ingratiating yourself with the boss in order to steal this opportunity right out from under her. You feel hurt that she would think you would do such a thing, and are concerned about the implications for your reputation in the workplace.
Let’s consider four ways to handle situations in which you find yourself the subject of gossip…
Empathy is always an opportunity:
Is this someone who has been profoundly disappointed? Is this situation impacting their already low self-esteem? Is this someone going through a tough time in his or her life? Think about what you might be feeling if you were in their shoes. The easiest thing in the world is for people to misunderstand each other. An important skill to develop is looking to understand why someone might be acting out in an uncharacteristic way.
When their behavior goes too far:
Are you dealing with someone who keeps widening the circle of negative influence at your expense? Someone who has become obsessed with an incident they have decided to blame you for… someone who keeps repeating their “story” to anyone who will listen? You may find out about this because multiple people come to you letting you know that so and so is saying “this” about you.
If this is the case, and you know you are not to blame, ask if they would be open to a conversation to resolve the incident they are blaming you for. If they aren’t open to trying to resolve things, and their destructive behavior continues, stand up for yourself at the next opportunity. In addition be sure you are telling the people that have come to you exactly what did happen, and the ways you have tried to resolve it. Don’t be passive.
This too will pass:
It will be tempting to become sidetracked. Gossip aimed at your expense is not only childish and immature it can be hurtful. As emotionally painful as the experience may be, it is a well-known part of the human condition that the emotional impact of hurtful things, over time, will lessen. In the meantime, don’t take your focus off of your work. Force yourself to keep producing your results.
Understand: What kind of person am I dealing with?
Is their behavior a refection of his or her character? Sometimes there are people who have ego problems. Situations can bring out their destructive side. You may find you are dealing with someone who, for some reason, hasn’t developed internal values that are present in people who understand the importance of being decent and respectful to others. They participate in behaviors that are hurtful to others. People of good character usually do not engage in hurtful gossip; rather they find it easy to behave with decency and compassion, they have no trouble wanting the best for others.
If you are dealing with someone with a lack of human decency in general, avoiding contact with him or her wherever possible can be a useful part of your strategy. If you are dealing with someone with an ego problem, there is no guarantee they will come back to their senses – but given time they might. If you are dealing with someone who has mistakenly blamed you for something you did not do, you can invite resolution, and then, if they are unwilling to resolve things, you will have at least taken the time to clarify the ways in which they are not seeing things accurately. In addition, take the opportunities presented to square things accurately with those he or she has tried to influence against you.
Jane Firth, M.Sc., career coach and founder and President of Firth Leadership Partners