By Susan Johnston
Our mothers told us never to engage in gossip, but it turns out that office gossip can sometimes help us get ahead – if used carefully. “It’s not realistic to say ‘don’t participate’ because if you don’t participate, people tend not to include you in the conversation,” says Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules Into Career Success. Plus, knowing who’s leaving the company or who’s about to be promoted can help you align yourself for your next promotion. Here’s how to handle office gossip – without being labeled a blabbermouth.
1. Remember, not all gossip is bad.
Mean-spirited, irrelevant gossip, like who’s having an affair or who’s had a nose job, is best ignored. But when water-cooler chatter turns to the boss’ pet peeves or other preferences, that’s when your ears should perk up. Frances Cole Jones, president of Cole Media Management and author of The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today’s Business World, suggests paying attention to management’s likes and dislikes, such as sports they are playing, volunteer activities they are involved in or how old their kids are. You can also find out what habits they appreciate or what quirks drive them crazy and adjust your behavior accordingly.
2. Listen more than you talk.
It’s always better to be the person receiving gossip rather than the one spreading it. “You do not want to be branded as someone who initiates or spreads gossip about the company or people within it as this will hurt the company and your reputation and personal brand,” says Chris Perry, founder of Career Rocketeer, a career search and personal branding network. You can also watch for subtle clues like who’s taking extra long lunches or cleaning out their workspace, as these can be signs that someone is about to give notice.
3. Verify before you act.
Just because you hear rumors or spot signs that someone is leaving the company, don’t stake your claim on their corner office. If you’re friendly with the person, you might casually chat them up and see if they volunteer the news themselves. Or you might initiate a conversation with human resources. “You don’t have to mention that you heard that so-and-so was leaving,” says Perry, “You can just mention that you are interested in an opportunity in a specific area (conveniently in the area in which that person just happened to be), so that you are in the consideration set when the next moves are announced.”
4. Be careful about what you share.
“Sometimes, in order to initiate the good gossip, you have to be willing to ante up with something,” says Williams. She says to make sure that you’re giving information that multiple sources have so it can’t be tracked back to only you. Gossip is risky business, so don’t share anything that violates confidentiality clauses or someone’s trust. And avoid spreading rumors about people’s personal lives.
5. Lastly, never put gossip in writing.
As Williams points out, gossip spread via email can “come back to bite you and you can’t spin interpretation or deny it.” Plus, you never know who might be reading or forwarding emails.
Boston-based freelance writer Susan Johnston has covered career and business topics for “The Boston Globe,” “Hispanic Executive Quarterly,” WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other publications.
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