Q: My desk mate is fond of gossiping, worse, she does it loudly, and in public, even in a lift full of people. As a result, most people avoid her. Unfortunately, I sit next to her, so I cannot escape her. Often, I go out for lunch with her, and I am beginning to worry about reputation, lest people begin to think that I am a gossip too and start avoiding me. How do I handle this situation?
I bet we have all gossiped at one point in our lives, shared information that was not truthful, in the process hurting others. What I know for sure is that gossip betrays confidence, breaks relationships, and erodes trust. Your colleague is therefore treading a thin line and needs to be helped before it is too late.
First, do not say you cannot escape her since in every situation, there is always a choice.
Whenever she opens her mouth to spit her inconsiderate words, you have three choices – to listen, to stop her or to walk away.
If you choose to listen, you affirm her and encourage her to go on. If she had no one to listen to her, she would stop. And so when she starts to talk, change the topic or excuse yourself and take a walk around the office.
If you are in a more liberal workplace, put on your headphones and get busy with your work. It may seem rude, but she will soon get the message.
Your other option is to stop her. Remind her that she can choose what to amplify, good or bad. I am saying remind her because she already knows speaking behind anyone’s back is not only dirty and cheap, but an avenue to stir up conflict, behaviour that is ultimately career limiting. Sometimes people who gossip are quite insecure, and try to compensate for this by nosing around other people’s business.
If all these tips fail to work, walk away. You have the freedom to choose whom to associate with. Request for a different workstation, seek a promotion or transfer to stay away from her.
The world judges us by the company we keep.
And as you rightfully fear, you will be easily mistaken for a gossiper by association.
Gossip not only separates close friends, but also negatively affects marriages, jobs and families. We should never let unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, rather, speak only what is useful in building others.