You can hear it anywhere workers congregate. Mostly idle chatter about TV shows, movies and sports. Then, someone changes the tone of the conversation to focus on an unsubstantiated rumor about a co-worker’s infidelity. Voices are suddenly lowered as the details of the affair emerge. The harmless chit-chat has become toxic workplace gossip.

In many companies, gossiping is considered to be a form of harassment, maybe even venturing into the territory of workplace violence. If you’re not sure when you or your friends have crossed the line from harmless to hurtful, here are a few examples to help you:

  • Is the subject of the conversation hurt or embarrassed?
  • Are you taking delight in someone else’s misfortune?
  • Are you spreading a rumor that has not been verified?
  • Does your chit-chat perpetuate conflict or negativity?

If you can answer “yes” to any of these, you are likely engaging in gossip.

What are the consequences of workplace gossip?

Gossip can take a heavy toll that includes:

  • A divided workplace where people take sides
  • Lower morale
  • Less productivity as workers get caught up in the drama
  • Anxiety and uncertainty as rumors run rampant
  • Higher turnover as talented workers leave the toxic environment

What can you do as a worker to control gossip?

You might feel powerless as you see your workplace being consumed by rumors and innuendos, but there are things any employee can do to help get rid of gossip in the workplace. Here are four suggestions:

Set a good example

Be a good role model for your co-workers and avoid all gossip. Show your maturity by walking away or changing the subject whenever it starts. If you let others know you won’t get involved in that behavior, gossip has less chance of gaining a foothold.

Ignore the gossipmongers

Gossipers love the attention they get and are always looking for receptive listeners. Send them the message you are focused on your work and too busy to listen. They are inviting you to take their message and keep it going. Turn down the invitation.

Inform your supervisor

Many times the gossip will grow and attract a large following. When that happens, talk to your boss about it. Management teams know a positive work environment is in everyone’s best interest, so they will probably deal with the issue immediately.

Don’t share your private life

It might sound cynical, but you can’t trust anyone at work with personal information. The last thing you need is to become the subject of malicious gossip because you mistakenly believed a “friend” would keep your secret. Here is one piece of advice you can take to the bank: If someone is gossiping to you about a co-worker, you can bet your last dollar that they will be gossiping about you eventually. Don’t give them anything that they can use.

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