4 Dec 2021

The etiquette of office gossip

In any large office, at any given time, there is usually a rumour to be picked up, but be very cautious about joining in the company tittle-tattle.

We all have our moments of weakness when we join the gossiping throng, with cries of ‘did he really? …’, and an occasional lapse is generally forgivable, but there are those who make a regular practice of maligning others or of spreading morale-lowering misinformation about the future of the company. Gaining a reputation as a rumour-monger or gossip is not a wise career move. For a while you may be the centre of attention at every tea break; sooner or later the rumour will reach the wrong ears, and then there will be trouble.

Gagging gossip

If you are in a position of authority, then you are entitled to take all reasonable steps to try to stop gossip proliferating. If you know who is responsible for the rumour-mongering, then you can confront them about what they are doing. If there is an element of truth in the rumour, then this may not be easy, and you may have to embark on a damage-limitation exercise. It may be the best you can do is appeal to whoever is spreading the rumour to stop, on the grounds that it is causing embarrassment or worse to the company. If the rumour is totally false, you may feel free to issue orders and threaten sanctions if the guilty party doesn’t comply.

What to do if you’re a victim of rumour or gossip

•Act quickly to refute the gossip.

Rumour-mongering can be like a drug in many ways – the longer people are allowed to indulge in it, the harder it becomes to give up. Remember that, if you don’t explicitly reject what is being said, many people will interpret your silence as proof that there was some truth in the rumour.

•Enlist a friend

Consult with a colleague whose opinion and advice you really trust. A friend will have a less emotional perspective on the matter, and may be a better judge of what’s really happening. They may know that the wisest thing to do is to let the whole affair blow over, or may offer to intervene on your behalf.

•Take it to a higher authority

If you don't know the source of the scandal, or if your attempts to scotch it are ineffective, then you have to take more serious action. You should go to a manager and explain to him or her what is happening – this is based on the assumption that the rumour is in fact true, but it may be the right thing to do even if it isn’t.

•Ensure that there is an adequate response

If the gossip is not stifled, then tell your manager that you are considering legal action. It may convince them that they really should do something to circumvent this. But remember, you should never threaten any action that you are not prepared to take.

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