I had a really awkward interaction with a coworker the other day. That should not come as a surprise. But here's the story (there's a lesson in it, too).
I had long suspected a coworker might be preggers (among the clues: belly bump, talk of morning-sickness-like symptoms, appetite jokes), but kept it to myself. Until a few weeks ago, two separate coworkers mentioned it in conversation as if it were public knowledge. With these confirmations, I went to her office to congratulate her.
Here's how it went:
Me: [knock knock]
Her: [looks up]
Me: [whispering] Congratulations!
Her: [confused look]
Me: On your pregnancy!
Her: [still confused look]
Me: [questioning myself and in a slight panic] Aren't you pregnant? I just found out.
Her: [still a little confused but now gets it] I thought you knew! [totally gets it now] I'm so sorry! Yeah, oh my gosh.
[small talk: how you feeling, how far along, boy or girl]
Her: Yeah, I told [so-and-so and so-and-so] when I was about 12 weeks long and [one other person]. I figured everyone would know through them.
Me: Um...yeah...I try to keep my ears out of other peoples' business.
This interaction had me thinking...she had expected a few coworkers would spread the word about her personal news around the office. What does that say about a workplace and the people there? This issue isn't unique to my office; your office has it, too: Office Gossip.
Whether it's in the hall, the restroom, or the breakroom, a lot of small talk is made each day at an office, usually with a variety of people. Topics can range from the weather to kids to movies...but what about when conversation starts heading toward another (not present) coworker or rumors floating around about company happenings? There's a fine line between small talk and gossip.
Let's be clear...talking about something that is publicly going on or publicly known is not gossip. Talk about coworkers is not necessarily gossip. Speculation or sharing of an HR incident? Gossip. (most Human Resources issues are, or should be, confidential.) Sharing juicy tidbits of a coworker's personal life? Gossip. Telling folks they should check out Angeline's cool office style blog? Not gossip.
Gossip is dangerous in so many ways. Not only can it hurt others, but it can hurt your professional credibility, since it involves your coworkers and the work environment. Being associated with people who are not trustworthy will do you no favors.
So what do you do in an office where rumors float?
- Identify the gossipers in your office. It's probably not nice to scream and run when you see them, since they're probably perfectly nice people, but just be aware of who they are.
- Don't engage in gossip. Gossipers love to talk. They are great conversationalists. But even they know that office gossip is not a good business to be in. Often they won't outright start gossiping, but they'll plant a few hints to get you to ask questions. Be especially aware of sarcastic if-you-only-knew type attitudes...they definitely have something they want to indulge and are just waiting for you to ask them.
- Be the end point. Chances are, if you are even the least bit sociable or friendly, office gossip will drop in your lap at some point. Let it stop there. If you need to let it out, write it in your journal, tell your spouse or other trustworthy friends that won't ever meet your coworkers, or write it on a blog that no one reads. (OK, don't blog about it. Anyone can find anything on the Internet.)
Have you ever experienced fallout from office gossip? How do you stay out of the drama at work?