Lead by example
If you want your team to stop gossiping, the first thing to do is to refrain from gossiping yourself. This sounds pretty obvious. But it can require some vigilance and self-monitoring – it’s easy to get sucked in if everyone is discussing some particularly enticing new piece of information about someone. Lead by example and take yourself out of it.
Stand up for people when appropriate
Stepping up from refraining from gossip yourself, you might also want to stick up for people who are under attack. Assume the best in people. If someone tells you, “Wow, Jennifer has been so grumpy today”, you could simply smile sympathetically and say, “Hmm, I wonder if she’s been having a hard time recently”. After all, maybe Jennifer really has been going through a lot? This is not about lecturing the person who’s spoken to you – just tactfully showing that you prefer not to join in with their negativity.
Of course, I don’t mean that you should simply reflexively take the opposite side: if someone informs you that, “Simon’s been having an extra-marital affair with a college student” it might not be the best idea to say, “Well, we all get urges sometimes”. Sometimes, the gossiper might have been genuinely badly treated by someone at work or have a legitimate grievance, in which case it’s ok and even important to acknowledge their feelings. However, try and do this without taking sides, appearing judgmental, or further spinning the rumor mill.
Vent outside the office
When your colleagues are annoying you, it’s tempting to vent your feelings. And venting can be good – getting things off your chest will help you deal with your emotions. But the office is probably not the best place for that venting. If you’re able to speak to a friend, partner, or family member from outside work then that would be preferable – or if you really have to speak to a colleague then do it outside the office, and avoid drawing any more attention to a dispute than you need.
Bring issues into the open
Sometimes people deal with problems in the office by gossiping because they’re too afraid to address the issue directly. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, for example, it can be easy to simply moan about them to the rest of the team, rather than facing up to the necessary confrontation and asking them to do their fair share (or escalating the situation appropriately if they refuse).
If your issue relates more to an annoying habit someone has, then perhaps the best thing to do is to not take these things too seriously. Indeed, with a bit of light-heartedness and tact, you might even be able to joke with the person who’s been annoying you themselves about, for example, how loudly they talk on the phone. Of course, you might not be able to have that kind of relationship with everyone – but, if you can, joking about it with them is far more rewarding than gossiping behind their back.
Gossip might provide a temporary thrill or a feeling of bonding between gossipers, but its overall effect is to undermine a workplace’s happiness. Rooting it out will benefit the office in general – and even just refusing to take part in it will help make your own life a good deal less stressful.