Every office has one. The office gossip seems to always know everything that's happening with everyone else in the office. This gossip tells everyone the juicy details (whether true or not), seemingly winning friends along the way. As intriguing as this person's information may be, though, this gossiping habit likely means management will never consider him or her for a promotion. In fact, the office gossip could be seen as a liability to office morale.
As a professional with designs on upward mobility, you can't afford to be associated with the office gossip too closely. You may think it's a good idea to go to lunch with your colleagues, but when you're seen exiting and entering the office with the office gossip, you may find yourself guilty by association. Still, you have to be cordial with all coworkers to the extent that it's required. Moreover, it's impossible to completely avoid a person you have to work with every single day, especially if you work in a small office. Here are some tips that can help you deal with your gossipy co-workers.
See It for What It Is
The first step toward dealing with these colleagues is to first recognize their behaviors for what they really are. In its most basic sense, gossip is really communication. In an effort to connect with people, gossips will often discuss mutual friends and co-workers. Since you both know the same person, a gossip merely assumes you'll immediately connect on your shared feelings about that person. When that connection is an underlying reason for a person's gossip, the key to combatting it is to subtly shift the conversation to something else you have in common, such as a mutual interest in fishing or your upcoming vacation.
When gossips are extreme, it's often because at some underlying level they don't feel they have enough attention. If this is the reason for a gossip's behavior, you have a much bigger challenge on your hands. The gossip is looking for an audience and possibly won't take your subtle hints that you aren't interested in being that audience. You may have to take more extreme measures to avoid being dragged down by this person.
If you're in a big enough office, you can try beating a wide path around the person at all times. Try to avoid being in break areas when you know the gossipy person will be there. If you're in the same meeting, avoid arriving early if you think you'll be subjected to gossip among co-workers.
When your efforts to avoid the gossiper fail, learn to gracefully exit the conversation. "Excuse me, I have to take this call" or, "I have to get to a meeting" are perfect excuses to get out of any situation in an office environment.
One way to short circuit the gossip is to simply confront the person. You can politely and professionally say, "Why are you sharing this information with me?" and prompt the other person to abruptly stop talking. When you directly address what the person is doing, you take some of the fun out of it.
If you prefer a slightly less direct approach, you can try simply asking the person to clarify his or her statements. "I think our boss is trying to make all of us quit" could generate your response of, "Really? What makes you think that?" Try to get the person to state professional, factual reasons for the things being said. Once the person is forced to state why he or she believes this, you can come back with reasons why this isn't true, potentially squelching this particular line of gossip permanently. Over time, the gossip will likely figure out you aren't going to play the game and find a new "victim."
It can be tempting to listen in on office gossip but to do so puts your career at risk. Although work may be frustrating for you at times, it's best not to indulge in the exchange of incendiary workplace stories, even if it helps you cope with your frustrations. The best thing to do is disassociate yourself from the person and try to defuse any gossip when you find yourself unable to get away.