Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mum's the word

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]
Her: [confused look]
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]
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.
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?  



  1. There are quite a few girls in my office that tend to be HUGE gossips. I steer clear of them.

    I've seen one girl in particular make snarky comments about everyone but then be ever so sweet to their faces; it almost seems like an attempt to glean as much information about people as possible so that she can spread it.

    It makes me sad that people get such enjoyment out of that.

  2. I'm the youngest at my office, but I've heard PLENTY of gossip from others here.
    I just ignore it. I have one really good work friend, and we've agreed that if we hear anything about the other person, we'd tell them.

    Also, because I'm the youngest (and married) people keep making jokes about me being pregnant/when I will have children. I've already had people start rumors that I'm pregnant! WHICH I AM NOT!

    It seems odd that this woman would assume everyone else would find out- but someone did that at my work too! She's due next month, and told a few people, knowing it would travel. I did the same thing you did, and she reacted much in the same way. It was odd. :(

  3. I've been in very similar situations, actually two of them involving coworker pregnancies. I am the exact same way in that I never butt in, and I never hear any of this stuff. I would see the secretaries huddled together talking in that low-whisper "gossip voice" (you know the one) and I would always smile and walk past. Actually, I think not being a gossip can put you in a socially disadvantageous place in the office. It's sad, but that's definitely what I felt like. Also I think people, especially people who gossip themselves, get the impression that if you're not gossiping with everyone else, you're not interested in anyone else.

  4. I think it is great how you mix fashion and the professional world on this blog. There is a real shortage of sources for young professionals to go to about so many issues like this. I Love It!

  5. Gossip is an official line of communication in my office, unfortunately.

    That means people like you and me are frequently out of the loop.

    Tough noogies. I agree with your avoid gossip policy. Plus I sit right outside the president and vice president's offices. I hear a lot that there is no way in heck I would repeat. The ability to maintain confidentiality is one if the reasons I got the job.

    Right now my work mantra is, keep you head down, do your job, give it your best, die respected.

    Okay the last one is wishful thinking, but the rest sure makes it hard to get into any trouble.

  6. Thanks for the input, ladies! It's amazing how in this day and age people are still so nosy about pregnancies. It is such a private subject, yet people expect women to share all about it at work.

    @ zeynep - I think there are ways you can tactfully stay out of the gossip ring without committing social suicide, but I guess it depends on the office culture and the gossipers.

    @ kt - Thanks, girl! I try to keep it interesting...I'm not sure if I could carry a solely fashion blog since it's not really on my mind every day (confession).

    @ lorrwill - You bring up some great points! Confidentially is definitely a valuable skill in any workplace...your supervisors and coworkers should be able to trust you. It's definitely something my department at work values...we're in the process of hiring a few new folks (some new positions, some replacements) and the ability to be tactful and keep confidence is a huge factor we consider.

    At my new cubicle I share a wall with the CEO. Usually he is out of town but I was warned by the gal who sat there before me and by his assistant that he sometimes "gets loud" in certain situations (Conference calls, confrontations, etc.). So my trusty ol' headphones have gotten a lot of use...he'll often come out from a loud conversation and swing by, and I think it makes him feel more comfortable knowing that I am proactively not eavesdropping.

  7. I often feel out of the loop not gossiping but I'm more productive not doing it. There is a guy who works in a different building (an hour away) that hears gossip about the people who sit around me that I didn't even hear. I have no idea how stuff makes it that far. I often wonder what is said about me. I'd like to be a fly on the wall only when my name is brought up.

    I feel like people who smoke, gossip a lot more, but sometimes they tend to be able to network more too. sigh.

  8. @ Colleen - wow...that is super-spreaded gossip. I'm not sure if I want to know what my coworkers say about me, although I don't think there is much to say since I don't really do anything out of the ordinary. :P

  9. I don't do thinks out of the ordinary (besides taking my picture everyday) but i'm sure someone might find something to say and I want to know what it is.

    Oh I did find out that 3 years ago they said someone in my group took her picture everyday and put it online. someone found my site not even knowing who was the person with the pictures. i can't believe that person's stalking skills. I'm friends with her now. BTW here is that site been going on for 5 years. I just started blogging recently about fashion but have had this for quite some time.

  10. Oh wow...those are super-sleuthing skills! Great site...that's amazing that you've been keeping it up for 5 years already!

  11. 5 years is long. It has slightly evolved from the beginning. at first I didn't have a big version of the pictures when you click on it. The website format hasn't changed in 5 years and now it's ugly. I should work on that. It is awesome to see all outfits at a glance. I like the blogging about my fashion (new thing to me) but you can't quickly see anything.

    The calendar site (that's what I call it) solely started so I knew when I wore what to my internship because I didn't want to repeat outfits close to each other.


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