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How to Handle Gossip in the Workplace



You think you know what gossip is. But are you sure? 

It’s a lot sneakier than you think. 

When you think of the word ‘gossip’, movies from the ’80s and ’90s might come to mind. You may picture people on the front porch, sitting on the porch swing, sipping some sweet tea and talking about the neighbors. Or maybe you think of coworkers airing grievances and speculations through whispers between cubicles or offices.

But watercooler chats and pointed looks during meetings aren’t the only form gossip takes. 

You may be doing it or participating in it without even realizing it. 

Any time you are speaking about someone or saying something to someone that you have not said to the person directly in exactly the same way as you are at this moment (your tone, your side comments, all of it) – you are gossiping. 

You are participating in gossip when you listen and reply to someone who is speaking in this way. 

This pattern holds you, your team, your company, your family, any of your relationships in DRAMA.

Gossip spreads distrust, paranoia, shame, guilt, and more. It is not conducive to you being in your full aliveness or your full creativity. 

Stopping the gossip is easier than you think! 

And once you stop gossiping, you open up opportunities to grow, get challenged, and be challenged in a safe and supportive way that creates a very different outcome. 

How to Stop the Gossip

Determine why you are gossiping 

When you went to someone to have a conversation about somebody else, what were your goals? 

Be really nonjudgmental about yourself doing this. This exercise isn’t about blaming, shaming, or judging yourself.  Everyone goes into drama and engages in Below the Line behavior like gossip. 

Self-awareness is key to breaking out of this behavior cycle. 

It’s so human nature to gossip and when you gossip you are in Drama. There are Below the Line emotions and feelings leading you to engage in drama. 

Ask yourself what you were trying to achieve by talking about someone behind their back. 

Often, you’re not ready or willing to go to the person you need to have the conversation with because you’re in drama thought patterns. You think you’re right about something. You’re trying to change someone. You’re trying to control what’s out of your control. 

If you aren’t willing to have a conversation directly with the person you’re gossiping about, the next step is to determine why.  

Tune into the thoughts and stories preventing you from talking to them directly. 

Is it fear of their reaction? Do you think it will take too much time? Are you scared they’ll gossip about YOU after? Are you scared you won’t be able to express yourself calmly? It could be that you feel it’s someone else’s job to have that conversation. 

Once you’ve identified why you’re not willing to have the conversation directly, you can begin to shift your mindset. 

Question Your Stories

Underneath gossip, you’ll find some kind of a story

There’s a difference between what’s true and what’s a prediction or a story or mind reading. If it’s not a fact and you can’t directly observe it, it’s a story. 

When you gossip, you’re usually making up a story about what will happen or what the other person will think, or how they’re going to be.

If you find yourself about to gossip, stop and notice those internal stories you’re making up about the other person or what’s about to happen. 

Check if those stories are actually true.  Can you know without a shadow of a doubt your belief is true? 

Hint: the answer is always no. Because it’s a story. 

The opposite of any story could be at least as true as your story. 

Have direct conversations and speak unarguably 

Gossip is anytime you’re having a conversation about someone and that person is not there. 

After you determine why you’re gossiping and the stories related to the gossip, you can identify what you really want. What are the results you are looking for?

The next step is to ask for it directly. 

And if you’re not willing to, that’s on you to figure out. It’s up to you to determine whether what you’re trying to protect, preserve, or avoid by not having that direct conversation is more important than the results that can come from communicating directly. 

If you want something to be different, it’s your responsibility to create the result. 

The only way you can come to a clear agreement or change is by advocating for it. Determine what lesson the gossip is trying to teach you, and pursue the result you want consciously. 

You can end the blaming, shaming, and guilting by taking the actions you can take to create a resolution you want to see. 

One of those actions is direct, unarguable communication. That means relaying facts and information without judgment, blame, shame, or projection of stories. 

Gossip breeds drama. You can clean things up and create the experience you want by communicating consciously. You can stop that drama cycle by questioning your stories and speaking unarguably. 

Create a general sense of trust and clarity and accountability, by being clear and accountable. 

Once you stop gossiping, you start asking for what you want. That creator mindset gives you an opportunity to grow. 

This article is related to my podcast episode on gossip – Listen here. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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