Change Focus of Employee Who Thrives on Gossip

By Lindsey Novak

March 29, 2012 4 min read

Q: I work with a woman who finds out all kinds of personal information about co-workers, then repeats it to everyone, adding her critical opinion on it. We all know what she is, and very few workers like her, but that seems to make it worse; it's as if she uses gossip to connect with us.

She knows no boundaries. She has gossiped about people cheating on their timesheets, lying about their salary amounts (adding that they are not worth what they receive), and making up excuses for calling in sick or for being late. I have no idea where she gets her information.

I have used every method to show I am not interested in listening to her. I have cut her off in mid-sentence; I have closed my office door, only to have her burst in to share this information; and I have told her I am busy, which she ignores and just continues to gossip. I spoke to my boss about her behavior, but while my boss was sympathetic, she felt she could do nothing about it. What more can I do?

A: Your boss could speak to this woman's boss, but let's try another approach. Your co-worker seems unaffected, perhaps even stimulated, by your direct rejections to her and her gossip, so don't repeat what has not worked. It's quite sad if this woman feels she must use gossip to connect with people, and your gut feeling about her may be the truth.

Instead of running from her or being outright rude, turn the tables and engage her in personal conversation filled with pleasantries. When she begins delivering "news" about others, interrupt her with a compliment. Mention liking her dress, a scarf or a piece of jewelry, even her hairstyle. Many women spend hours getting ready for work, deciding what to wear to improve their appearance, so offing a compliment is not just idle chatter. It makes people feel good that their effort was worth their time.

If you say it with conviction, you may disarm her habitual need for negativity. She may act shocked at first, but you will re-direct her focus and show her another way to communicate. If she returns to her original remark, interrupt her again with a continuation of your compliment. This may take great effort at first, but be consistent. You will be showing her that with positive conversation, you are willing to listen and to give her time. After your niceties, politely say you have to finish your work but can talk later.

People aren't naturally mean and negative. Something caused it. You are not trying to be her therapist, just a positive influence, which may offer her a different way of life.

 

COLLEAGUE QUESTIONS ANOTHER'S HONESTY AT WORK

Q: My colleague thinks it's fine to take home office supplies (printer paper, pens, staplers — you name it — home with him. Six of us share an office, but we are not all there at the same times, so I don't what others think of this. I think it's wrong, but I don't know if I should say anything.

A: Keeping quiet could make you feel as guilty as the person committing the action, while reporting someone before hearing the facts could ostracize you from the others at work. Dr. Mary C. Gentile, author of "Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right," writes that "concern serves to silence us, preventing us from sharing our perspectives because we assume that they are not valid." Discovering our true values is work, but it is work that is not only worthwhile for the country but for our own peace of mind. Your doubt in reporting your colleague tells you there is more to this than what you see.

Email Lindsey at [email protected] with all your workplace questions. She answers all email. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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