Call it a watercooler conversation or the grapevine, gossip is a part of the office culture. According to psychologist Robert Dunbar, two-thirds of all our conversations are based on being social. (We talk about intellectual topics only for the remaining time.) Which means gossip lets us build and analyze the relationships we have with others, and also supports our emotional health.

But, we know gossip isn’t all positive. It breeds fear, anger, resentment, and a sense of othering people. Yet, we can’t stop it. Our brain is just wired to gossip. So, how do we do it right?

Diana Chapman, founder of the Conscious Leadership Group, says the first step is learning how to differentiate between grievances and gossip. If you can talk about someone without making them wrong or blaming them, then it’s a grievance. It turns to gossip when:

  • There is negative intent, and it maligns your colleague’s reputation or image.
  • You are not willing to speak to your colleague, the same way you are talking about them to others.

It is sometimes hard to hold this distinction. Especially under stress or conflict. So, Chapman recommends actions that clean up gossip. These are ways the person gossiping and the person listening can take responsibility, and stop the negative talk:

Own up to those you’ve been gossiping with. For example, say, “Derek, I acknowledge that I have been speaking critically about Raj to you, without sharing my thoughts directly with him. I now see that my behavior is not helping solve the issue at hand. I plan on talking to Raj directly.”

Reveal to the person you’ve been talking about. This is a tough one, as it involves being accountable for your negative behavior. Try saying, “Raj, I have been criticizing you behind your back, and I apologize for that choice. I want a better relationship with you. So, I’d like to talk to you about the challenges I feel I have. Is now a good time?”

As the listener, draw a boundary. “John, I have been participating in gossip about Raj, with you. I no longer want to do that, unless you are willing to talk to him directly. I do want to be supportive of you, but I don’t want to make him wrong in any way. Can I facilitate a conversation between you two?”

These are just the first steps to stop the habit of office gossip. It takes a lot more to undo its effects. Check out our next post to learn what they are.

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