Yesterday the office intern asked me “Do people always gossip this much around here?” I sort of laughed it off and told her that yes, we’re a gossipy bunch, but that got me thinking: are we so bad that even the intern questions it?
Office gossip is inevitable, no matter where you work. Your co-workers (and often yourself) gossip about everything, from who got what promotion (and how they got it) to what so and so did last Friday night. None of it is anyone’s business but yet we constantly make it our own. But let’s face it, nothing’s better than a juicy office rumor.
In every company, whether big or small, there are certain groups that gossipers fit into. They each have their own methods of gossiping, whether blatantly or using stealth. Combating them can be difficult, but knowing what you’re up against and the way the like to gossip can help you to beat the gossip mongers.
Enticers are those who KNOW gossip but are sort of sneaky about it. They let on that they know a juicy rumor but act like they’re hesitant to tell you. This, of course, makes you want to know it more than anything else in the world. You’ll know when an enticer is about to strike; their eyes get a little shifty and gleeful. Although it’s hard to resist an enticer, you must try. Chances are the bit of gossip they have to tell you is a little TMI or will change your perception of the person it’s about. If you find you cannot resist, let them tell you but don’t encourage them to elaborate and try not to make assumptions about the gossip; you never know if it’s 100% true.
This group of gossipers knows exactly how to stir the pot and have the ability to zero in on subjects that will rile even the most mild mannered of us all. Once they’ve stirred up gossip, they will sit back and let the fireworks fly, like a spider luring flies into its beautifully spun web. Although not as difficult to resist as enticers, instigators can be resisted by keeping your mouth shut, regardless of your feelings on the topic of gossip. One rookie mistake you can make is asking questions, thus helping to fuel the fire by letting others answer with their own forms of gossip. When in doubt, keep silent.
Often that person who joins in the group but doesn’t participate, the observer silently learns all bits of office gossip, storing them up like an arsenal they can use at whatever time. The observer doesn’t need to be confused with someone who just doesn’t participate in office gossip; observers are often braggart about “overhearing” (i.e. eavesdropping) other conversations. If you come in contact with an observer, chances are you probably won’t be able to stir up any office gossip with them but make sure any office gossip about yourself doesn’t get around to them. You don’t want to be one of their puppets when they decide to strike!
The BOFG (or Best Office Friend Gossiper)
These are the worst kind of co-workers you can have. They will become your office friends, encouraging you to discuss things, whether your future job plans or job hunt, relationships, doctors’ appointments, etc., only to use this information against you. They’ll discuss the things you thought was said in simple conversation or even in confidence, spreading gossip about you around the office, which will one day catch you off guard when someone you’ve barely spoken to will ask you how your date last Friday night went or did the doctor ever figure out what that weird rash on your butt was. The BOFG is sneaky and hard to identify; you can really only learn these people by trial and error, but a good rule of thumb is if it doesn’t pertain to work or fluffy kitties, you shouldn’t be discussing it at work.
Office gossip, unfortunately, is going to always be around us and there’s really nothing we can do to stop it. Gossip mongers are going to always be found in our co-workers and we may even be part of that special group. Arming yourself with the know-how to avoid instigating gossip is the best way to combat it. If you don’t fuel a fire, gossip quickly dies down when it’s aimed at you. After a while, enticers or instigators will probably begin to leave you alone because you’re no longer a captivated audience for them. If you keep your mouth shut about gossip, observers will eventually stop paying too close attention to you and remembering that every detail of your life is not for your co-workers’ ears will keep the BOFGs from talking too much about you.
Just remember: if you’re involved in gossiping about others, chances are others are involved in gossiping about you.