How to Stop Office Gossip

Wherever you work, office gossip is a menace. It creates more problems in the workplace than almost any other issue. Office gossip can be defamatory. It can also be libelous, legally actionable, incurring damages, sometimes for very large amounts, for injury to reputation or professional interests.

There's nothing good about office gossip. A lot of it is deliberately malicious, designed to be hurtful. It can cause "office wars", including major conflicts between groups of staff and sometimes managers. Most people try to stay out of the line of fire, and avoid becoming subjects of office gossip. Stopping office gossip isn't easy, but it can be done, and it's in everyone's interest to shut it down wherever it happens.

How to contribute to stopping office gossip

Part of the problem of office gossip is the nature of the office environment. Put any group of people together, and you'll get gossip. Types of gossip vary considerably. Some gossip is unintentional, just talking too much on the wrong subjects. Some is deliberate, spreading rumors and disinformation. Some is criticism, usually on a personal basis.

Whatever form it takes, you can help prevent it spreading:

If someone's saying more than they should: You can politely mention that "It's not really our business, is it?" as a hint to the person they're saying too much. This reminder will silence most people, or at least reduce the amount of information. It also points out to other listeners that the subject is probably private, which will turn off some people.

Rumors and disinformation: You can challenge this information, because it's actually non-information. Ask if there's any evidence of the statements being facts, like "How do we know this is isn't just some rumor?" The gossip will have to defend the statements. This will at least reduce the amount of time available to spread other rumors.

Personal criticism: This is usually mean, deliberately damaging gossip designed to hurt someone. You can say, "I don't think these personal comments are very nice. How would you like it if someone was saying things like this about you?" This acts as a reminder to the audience that they could also be subjects of conversation. Few people will defend statements which are personal attacks, for that reason. You're more likely to hear a denial of any sort of personal attack being made. 

One on one with a gossip: If you're talking an office gossip, you need to shut it down immediately. You need to be blunt, and very discouraging of any further efforts to inflict any more gossip on you. You say, "Look, I don't want to hear any more. I don't like gossip, and I won't listen to it." This won't endear you to the gossip, but it will shut them up.

Talking to management about gossips: If you're seeing or hearing gossip which you believe is truly dangerous or hurtful, you can bring it up with your boss. This is a judgment call, depending on the office environment, but it will bring to management attention a possible problem.