When you enter the break room, the conversation stops. You feel the sideways glances your coworkers shoot at you as you walk down the hallway. No one tells you what’s going on, but you catch the vibe. There’s a rumor going around, and it’s about you. How do you silence the rumor mill when you’re the subject of office gossip?
What traps do you need to avoid?
Trap #1: Ignoring gossip can be your downfall
You may feel tempted to retreat to your work station, hoping the gossip storm blows over. You can’t stop gossip by pulling your head into a turtle shell. Wait too long and the rumors turn from mud splashed on your reputation into concrete.
Trap #2: Reacting backfires
If you react with angry denials, you throw gas on the gossip fire. React with tears and humiliation and you reward the gossip instigator. Plead for the gossipers to stop, and you give them power.
Trap #3: Don’t collude
Gossip hurts like a knife slash, but then we twist the knife ourselves by taking what’s said to heart. When mud splashes on you, you wash it off before the stain sets in. Don’t collude with those who gossip by carrying their words home and spending the evening remembering them.
What can you do to stop the gossip?
Action #1: Confront in the right way
When you overheard gossip or know that others have spread rumors about you, confront it. A simple denial works, “I know there have rumors. They’re not true.”
If you know what’s been said, you can add specifics. “I’ve been working late. Bill has too. We’ve even lunched together when we were both headed out the door at the same time. I know small minds might think we’ve got something going. I know you wouldn’t think that. But, just to be clear, no.”
If you know who’s spread the rumors, you can say, “I’ve heard you’re saying this about me. Why?” or “I’ve heard you’ve been saying…. Since I wasn’t in on that conversation, I’d appreciate you coming to me directly so I can the record straight for you.”
Action #2: Enlist support
Instead of hiding, ask coworkers and others to have your back when you’re not present. Ask your manager, “Can you please help shut this down?”
Action #3: Stop gossipers in their tracks
Want to silence the rumor mill when you’re the subject of office gossip? Cut off the air that fuels all gossip. Imagine the look on your gossiper’s face if she comes to you and says, “Do you know what ‘X’ said about you?” and you respond, “Let’s go find ‘X’ and have a three-way discussion about that.”
Or imagine the quiet that would descend on an office if you ask your manager’s permission to tackle the rumor mill and say, “I hear I’m the target of nasty bullying rumors, none of which are true. I hope none of you want to be used in this way, to be co-opted into reputation slander.”