how can I shut down gossip at work?

A reader writes:

I like my job and my coworkers, but there’s one thing that keeps bugging me: There’s a real culture of gossiping, and I keep getting sucked into it. I used to be a huge gossiper myself, but at a previous job I was the target of some untrue and hurtful gossip, and since then I’ve really tried to reform my own habits.

At the same time, I’m aware that completely opting out of office gossip means I could miss out on information that would be helpful for me to know. I also don’t want to come across as chilly or reserved or like I’m judging other people. How do I shut down gossip when people try to share it with me without harming my relationships with those colleagues? Is that even possible? Or do I just need to get over it and accept that some amount of gossip will always be normal in a workplace and I’m being unrealistic in thinking I can opt out of it?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Be the change you want to see.
    I’ve seen people do it and I’ve learned to do it myself. In some situations, I’m very successful (a work in progress, just? like everyone.)
    People know I don’t talk politics or religion at work, because I’ll nope out of the conversation, but when it comes to essentially talking about people at work, it’s a case by case situation.
    There’s that old saying, “is it true; is it necessary; is it kind?” It does really work.
    If it’s true, great. Move on to, is it anything you need to know? Yep. Now, are you talking about the situation and solutions are you being unkind? Nope out at the right point.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I know this as THINK and have taught it to my children accordingly:


      1. Sneaky Squirrel*

        I’ve never heard this acronym before but love it and want to embrace it as my own now.

    2. Me*

      This is a good technique.

      I’m new-ish at my job, and one thing I like is that when my coworkers talk about other coworkers they tend to say more positive things. I’ve certainly heard a couple of items that are a bit less flattering, but for the most part, it tends toward praise or at least “Hey, here’s something to be informed about” rather than condemnation. Part of it is probably because it’s a very small office and bad-mouthing would absolutely get back to the person. But we also work on a lot of projects together as a group, and that tends to foster a team mentality.

  2. ArchivesPony*

    There is a great article that came out in 2004 titled “Gossip in Evolutionary Perspective” (by R. I. M. Dunbar) that looks at gossip from an evolutionary/anthropological aspect. Also, Roy F. Baumeister, Liqing Zhang, and Kathleen D. Vohs wrote an interesting paper titled “Gossip as Cultural Learning” that is worth the read

    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      Yes! I read a book in this topic. We are a social species, and gossip regulates our behavior so we don’t do antisocial things. And useful gossip keeps us out of danger. As others have said, unnecessary and cruel observations about others are not useful: except that they teach you what kind of person the gossiper is!

    2. kiki*

      These are great articles! I wanted to bring up that some “gossip” has real utility, so it’s important to be judicious about the conversations you’re trying to shut down. Anything that’s mean-spirited, obviously untrue, hurtful, etc. should be shut down for sure. But sometimes “gossip” is an attempt between two people to better understand their work environment. Like, if I’m talking to a peer about how surprised I was that John was promoted to director instead of Magda, it’s useful for my peer to mention that John golfs with the CEO every Sunday. That might seem gossipy, but it’s worth me knowing as a junior person that to get promoted to certain levels at this company, I’ll probably need to get into golf or find other ways to get face time with leadership.

      1. kiki*

        Also want to add that gossip about feeling creeped out by certain people might, to some, be seen as mean or hurtful. And sometimes it can be, but other times it is a valuable social warning tool. I’ve seen both– sometimes folks are “creeped out” by folks who are outcasts or a little bit odd but overall nice people who have done nothing wrong. Other times someone is creeped out by somebody because they can sense something predatory. It’s important to understand and reflect on which is happening because one should be shut down and the other should probably be taken more seriously.

      2. Yadah*

        Exactly this!
        I can’t count the number of times I’ve participated in “gossip” at work where myself or my coworker reacted with “I’m so glad it isn’t just me!”

        It can be SO helpful to understand your working environment. I once had a coworker who needed their butt kissed constantly and had zero level of seniority to even pretend it was justifiable. I learned this pretty quickly and sharing it with my fellow team leads made a huge difference in the functionality of our office.

        Obviously, there’s a line, but IMO it’s further than some people might suspect.

        1. I Have RBF*

          I can’t count the number of times I’ve participated in “gossip” at work where myself or my coworker reacted with “I’m so glad it isn’t just me!”


          Sometimes I will need to “gossip” about something that another person or group has done, and ask “Is this their usual habit?”. Nine times out of ten it’s something like “Oh, they’re always grumpy about stuff.” or “He’s always running around like his hair is on fire.” Especially when I’m new and the person is a little eccentric, I need to know whether it’s normal or just me that perceives a problem.

  3. Dova*

    “Oh, I prefer not to speculate about X or Y. Are you excited for season two of The Last Of Us?”

      1. Missa Brevis*

        Maybe the website objects to you being so formal and just wants you to go by Dove, your Majesty!

  4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    The helpful/harmful distinction is something that is really hard to see sometimes.

    Like, Fergus is normally a level-headed guy, but in one particular situation he acts weird and vaguely defensive. I ask a colleague “what was that all about”, and she says “Oh, that’s from before you started here. Fergus had to deal with that thing before, he made a mistake, and got chewed out way more than he should have been. So he’s defensive and sensitive around that situation now.”

    So that’s helpful. But colleague could have answered differently, and you just don’t know when you ask that question which way she was gonna go.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah my first thought was “one person’s gossip is another’s whisper network warning” … which is still problematic for a bunch of reasons but I’m glad Alison addressed that specific scenario in her response as well as more benign and constructive uses of the gossip impulse.

      There can also be a fine line between gossip, venting frustrations, and contextualizing info on how to work with someone you’re having issues with. Sometimes I have to strictly monitor myself that I’m always approaching that kind of talk with “does this help me interact with them more productively?” vs. just bitching or prying.

  5. LawDog*

    Become the fact checker in the office. Management will take care of the rest.

    “Can you please verify that you slept with the delivery guy from Staples in the copy room?”
    “Can you please verify that you are leaving for a better job?”
    “Can you please verify that our company is laying off anyone who belongs to a protected class?”


          1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

            You say “of course,” but two people had replied to this obvious joke as though it’s a serious suggestion, so it bore a mention.

      1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

        I think it was meant to be funny. It fell flat with me, though. There are people who do exactly this.

    1. Joielle*

      Ha! I mean, it would stop people from trying to gossip with you, that’s for sure.

  6. Ultimate Facepalm*

    I love saying nice things about people to someone else, knowing it will probably get back to them. I also love saying ‘ooh, listen to what Kara said about you! We were talking about Painful Project and she said there’s nobody else she would rather have testing it because you and your team are so good at your jobs!’
    It makes me happy. I am cheesy.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      When someone has done something particularly awesome, I’ll send them a detailed thank-you email and cc their manager.

    2. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Oscar Wilde was fake-peeved at people who said nice things behind people’s backs…

    3. Hula-la*

      I was told once “If you hear a compliment about a person, you should tell them”. I have been trying to live by that the last few years.

  7. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “ In fact, you might think about counteracting your office’s gossip culture with “good gossip” — positive comments that you wouldn’t mind getting back to the person you’re talking about, like how much you like working with them or how much a client raved about a project they did. Over time, making a point of sharing sincere, positive comments can have a real impact on the culture in your office, or at least on the culture in your immediate vicinity.”

    I loved this! Yes! I’m going to make it my mission to say one nice thing about someone behind their back every day.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “good gossip” — positive comments that you wouldn’t mind getting back to the person you’re talking about, like how much you like working with them”

      I love this suggestion too!

  8. Ultimate Facepalm*

    I will also be the first one to gossip about possible layoffs. I know that management sometimes uses the ‘grapevine’ to spread the word on things. I don’t know why they won’t put out an email or whatever for that sort of thing. In any case, unless I was specifically told as a part of management to keep it quiet, I am sharing the layoff rumor so people can make life decisions accordingly.

    1. Bast*

      I tend to agree with the assessment of it depends what we are considering “gossip.” I am taking it to mean things that may or may not be true about colleagues/supervisors that have no bearing on my work/pay/employment. “Did you hear that Harry and Sally are hooking up?” is totally different than, “The company needs to make cuts and I’ve heard half of the X department may be getting laid off.” Even if the layoff rumor ends up not being true NOW, it’s the type of thing I’d appreciate hearing, because usually where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there’s some undercurrent of instability. It is also the type of thing where management will rarely come right out and say, “Yes, we absolutely are laying off X people” until it’s too late. Use the information as you will, but this is something people should know so that maybe they don’t go out and buy that new car only to get laid off a month later.

    2. Anon For This One*

      I just did. Someone in my morning meeting was laid off and I’ve let folks on my own team know.

    3. Butterfly Counter*

      Gossip is pretty much the only way I know what the administration (at a university) is up to. They are the absolute opposite of transparent. I’m sure they would argue that people on my level don’t really need to know what’s happening, but these issues do trickle down eventually.

      My department is lucky because our chair will tell us what he can to help us prepare for whatever changes are coming despite the fact he’s told not to tell us.

      I’ve always appreciated gossip when it comes to letting people know whom to steer clear of. Whether it’s a pervy professor in another department or a racist staff member, I can help myself, my coworkers, and my students better succeed without a lot of trauma.

      If I’m ever in a situation where gossip gets mean or not helpful, I tend to either gray rock it or I do what Alison says and just counter with my own more positive spin on what is being gossiped about. That way, I am kind of training people what to tell me. Issues surrounding safety or how to best succeed at my job: Yes please! Mean sniping or unhelpful speculation: I’m not your person.

      1. Orv*

        Yeah, I work at a university and there’s a lot of that here, too. A lot of it starts in informal meetings as “I’m not officially allowed to talk about this yet, but ” and then it spreads as gossip from there.

    4. Yadah*

      Yes! And it works both ways.
      I worked at a company that was looking at significant layoffs and there wer the grapevine convos about it, but I was already job hunting for other reasons so I used the grapevine to make sure it got back to my bosses that I should be up on the chopping block (because it was unlikely I would have landed there otherwise).

      I got laid off, got a little cash, and qualified for unemployment while I continued my job hunt and my boss was able to make sure someone else who was looking to be at the company long term stayed.

    5. Cinnamon Stick*

      I see nothing wrong with this. If enough people hear, enough of them will go to management to see if it can be addressed.

      Note that it may not be. There are managers too low in the hierarchy to be permitted to share the information, or (a situation I’ve been in), people get told, “No, there are no layoffs coming,” until they’re told, “Clean out your desk.”

  9. Indie*

    A few years back I fell down the stairs at my work. In was a beautiful staircase inside the protected area running along 6 floors. I loved taking the stairs first because I could avoid all the security checks involved with going in and out of secured areas and second because I was getting a tiny bit of exercise during my mostly sedentary work day. So one really beautiful day in early summer I was going down the stairs when my show started slipping off and I fell a whole flight. It was a pretty bad fall that resulted in a concussion and a sprained wrist, had to miss a whole week of work and wear a splint for the rest of the summer. Anyways, the first person to come to my help was a close coworker, a very sweet person. He helped me get off the floor and into a more private space while waiting for the ambulance. He was also the one to ride with me in the ambulance and to inform my emergency contact. After I came back to work, there was this rumor, told almost jokingly, that in fact he pushed me down the stairs and profited from it by skipping a day of work. I had to spend a significant amount of time correcting the record until this one particular rumor eventually stopped.

    1. By the lake*

      That was very kind of you to set the record straight about your coworker. However, had I been in co workers shoes I might just have started that rumour myself! ;)

      (after having made sure you were indeed going to be ok and providing factual info about your health status of course).

      1. Lilac*

        Why on earth would you start a rumour about yourself pushing someone down the stairs? Is there a benefit to being known in your organization as a violent person who will harm others?

        1. amoeba*

          I mean, I would assume as an obvious (to me) joke? Unless this is the most toxic workplace ever, I seriously cannot imagine anybody taking this as anything else – hence also slightly surprised at the necessity to shut it down!

  10. Not The Earliest Bird*

    I like a non committal response like “well, isn’t that something” immediately followed up with a non controversial remark like “Did you see that the Celtics swept the Pacers?” or “Hey, we’re going to have some hot weather this week.”

    1. Gimme all you got*

      Yes, and tip of the cap to the Pacers who fought hard despite the loss of their best player

  11. Blue Pen*

    I totally agree with Alison’s response, but I would also add that—in many cases—gossip really thrives in a toxic or unhealthy work environment (of which the gossip contributes). Any work environment I’ve been in that had gossip as a problem was one where the culture was abjectly terrible: disconnected leadership, different standards or expectations for different people, bad behavior being swept under the rug, etc. I’ve learned that, generally speaking, people gossip because they feel powerless over a situation at work.

    1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      I’ve never thought about it in these terms but this absolutely squares with my experience as well. +1.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Oh yes, that’s definitely true! I commented below about my rather toxic OldJob where the execs seemed to think that the rest of us didn’t talk to each other and therefore didn’t know what nonsense they were spouting at us individually. In that situation, we definitely needed to “gossip” with each other in order to deal with management and try (and unfortunately fail) to get them to see things in ways that benefitted us instead of them.

      And if you are working with one person in particular who is toxic, especially if they are the type who lie without impunity, pit others against each other, and treat some people like angels while picking mercilessly on others, it’s extremely important for everyone else to “gossip” if they want to combat the toxic worker. The toxic person likely is banking on others not gossiping about them, and that’s how they can get away with their behavior. If everyone else starts comparing notes, they can work together to try to put an end to the situation. Or at the very least, learn that they are not the only person who has noticed the liar and make a decision to leave if they are done dealing with it. [Raises hand.]

      I do believe that people in power came up with the term “gossip” in order to control those with less power by giving a negative connotation to the kinds of discussions that helps the less powerful gain at least a little more power. (This is a personal belief but I feel like I read it somewhere? In any case, I don’t seem to be able to find where I read it at the moment.)

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I did just read something about how those who gossip have been found or thought to have less social standing than those who don’t gossip but a) this is only correlation, not causation and b) maybe those with lower social standing “gossip” whereas those with higher standing “impart facts” and c) who is deciding that the gossipers have lower social standing? If it’s those with higher social standing, then I’d argue that’s more proof that “gossip” is a loaded term used by the powerful to control the less powerful.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          This was where my train of thought was heading. Where does “gossip” end and “sharing important information” begin?

          I teach at a university. If I have a student who is giving me unusual problems, I talk to my coworkers about it and my coworkers share some of the same issues with me. Sometimes I’m trying to get their advice, but a lot of the times, I’m just venting.

          Like, “Ugh, I caught Eleanor Shellstrop cheating on the exam by changing her answers as I was going over them! Now I have to do a whole thing!” is venting/gossip. But my coworker, who also has Eleanor or who might have her next semester can use that information to stave off that kind of cheating in the future as well as look for other issues surrounding her academic integrity.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Right? Excellent question! I suppose if you were to say it like, “Watch out for Eleanor, she’s a dirty, lying, cheating low-life,” that might be considered gossip but if it’s just “Watch out for Eleanor, I caught her cheating once,” that might be more information. Even though Eleanor herself might think of it as gossip.

          2. anonny for this*

            My employers have recently had a sexual harassment and bullying scandal. The accused was not named in the local discussion, but someone named him on twitter. Is this, and passing his name along, gossip? Or is it warning people who are going into meetings with him “hey, this guy has been accused of sexually harassing students and colleagues, bullying his accusers, and yelling in meetings”. Keeping in mind that there’s a remote possibility he was identified wrongly, because most of the people directly involved are bound by due process.

            1. Butterfly Counter*


              I recently got mad because I found out (through gossip) that a professor in the English department not only had been accused of sleeping with his students, but had been accused of sexual harassment in the form of threatening students with failing grades unless they had sex with him. This seemed like something the whole university should be aware of! But it was (and still is) being kept very hush-hush.

              1. Peaknuckle*

                Jeesh! is this still a thing? I thought we had evolved past this kind of stuff. : /

        2. anonny for this*

          I say stuff to my colleagues that could be construed as gossip, like “Oh god, X has discovered LinkedIn”, but this is actionable information that is going to make our jobs harder/mean we need to be ready for X to explain the wonders of LinkedIn and ask why we are not harnessing it in our comms.

      2. Anon, obvs*

        This is literally happening at my workplace right now. It is extremely frustrating. Definitely having to straddle the line between “acknowledging how this situation is deeply fucked up” and “badmouthing other people behind their backs”.

      3. Kara*

        Just be careful with that, please. Gossip also has a long history of being used to keep ‘undesirables’ in their place and exclude people the resident cliques don’t like. Heck, how many examples do we have of destructive gossip on this site alone?

        1. Chris*

          “Gossip” can be a mix of things but this destructive use is unfortunately one of them.

    3. Lacey*

      Yes. In every place I’ve been with a gossip problem, people were upset over bad communication and poor management.

      Not that they were always talking about that, but their frustration with Jill in reception wouldn’t have been bubbling over if Jill’s manager had taken the problem seriously and done something about it.

    4. Laser99*

      Absolutely correct. Never forget that those whose gossip to you will gossip about you.

  12. Yup*

    I always try to think in terms of harmful gossip versus letting off steam/venting/building a case, and learning the difference between the two. It is difficult in a capitalist society to never talk about how people are managing or treating others in a way that’s problematic (“Did you see what he said to her in that meeting? That’s uncalled for!). Shutting that down is asking people to accept bad behaviour. But the destructive gossip (“Did you see what he’s wearing?”) is definitely problematic.

  13. Dandylions*

    I’ve had good luck confronting the bad sort of gossip head on while passing along important details about upcoming changes to the right people who will spread it further. The result was people stopped coming to me for nasty gossip but I was always in the know for business gossip.

    “Have you heard that Jack and Jill are seeing each other?”

    “Why does that matter?”

    “I mean do t you think it’s problematic?”

    “No. They aren’t in each other’s reporting structure so I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

    Rinse and repeat for whatever the next gossip is.

  14. Blue Pen*

    Also, I don’t know if it sounds a little Pollyanna-ish to say, but when someone confides in me about something, I just don’t repeat it. Period. Even if it feels inconsequential. It’s just not worth it, and I know that I’ve earned a lot of people’s trust as someone who keeps their mouth shut because of it. If it’s something I absolutely *have* to tell someone about, I’ll tell my spouse or a non-work friend who’s a neutral party.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Same. I worked at an extremely gossipy place, and I was a terminal node of gossip. People would vent/rant/talk at me about whatever, and I’d just nod and make noncommittal noises, and whatever they told me stopped with me. It worked out because I was in the loop on stuff it was good for me to know, and people trusted me not to spread stuff around. Honestly, I think some people liked telling me stuff better because I’d let them have the floor 100%. When I needed to vent, I would vent to non-work people.

    2. Plate of Wings*

      Same, I am okay with being a listener and a dead end for information, speculation, or vents. Sometimes people feel better when they share.

      But I have no urge to relay these conversations to others! It would feel weird to me to bring it up to someone else, so I guess I make a good dead end!

  15. Slow Gin Lizz*

    This is a tricky situation because of how different people view the word “gossip.” There are some things that people (especially management) might consider gossip that others would consider “important information that needs to be told.” So, for instance, when a couple of people at OldJob got “laid off” I wanted to know why so I asked them and discovered that they really weren’t laid off, they were essentially fired for disagreeing with management. This was important information for me to know and contributed to my mistrust of management there. Was it gossip? Sure, I guess, but it’s also just communication. Our CEO was always surprised when his workers knew stuff about each other; he seemed to have no idea that we could, you know, talk to each other and not just to the bosses.

    And a lot of execs seem to think that discussing salary with your coworkers is gossip but it’s also really important information for employees to have; would I have started looking for a new job had I known that my coworkers also barely made more money than me, despite all of us being there for several years and also knowing how much less we made than the execs? Maybe not. Would I have been as angry about my “replacement” there getting paid way more money than they were paying me despite the job being exactly the same and their saying they didn’t have money to pay me more, had I not known the salary difference? Definitely not. But in both of those situations, I’m sure the execs probably weren’t happy that I was talking about salary with other employees there and would consider it gossip, despite it being really important information to know about the org. And as AAM is always saying, not discussing salaries with your coworkers (and friends and family in other jobs) is only good for companies and puts workers at a major disadvantage.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I wouldn’t describe any of that as gossip because it involved people telling you what happened to them personally.
      Gossip is when people talk about others, not themselves.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        My point is that you and I don’t think of it as gossip but I am pretty sure that the execs at ExJob would think it is. And we were talking about ourselves and about others wrt salary and why people were “laid off.”

        1. By the lake*

          But you also demonstrated an excellent method of heading off harmful gossip which is to go ask the source for clarification or respond with the correct context. So if someone says I heard Sam got a raise, wonder what they did to deserve that? (implying with tone it was nefarious or not above board) responding with oh cool they must have finished their certification and were eligible for increased job responsibilities helps shut that kind of thing right down

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Sigh. Did you somehow know one of the reasons I left the job is that I finished a certification and they didn’t give me one cent more for it? And then went ahead and listed that certification as a requirement for the next person in the position despite the fact that it wasn’t in the past (and IMO doesn’t need to be but what do I know, I just live in the system and no one else there does?).

  16. Zona the Great*

    I also notice that women are often accused of gossip where men doing the same thing are not. I was once told I must be “clucking with the other hen” because I sat next to the only other woman in the office. The man who said that to me was also the same guy who just had to tell me who was gay, straight, divorced, or cheating.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Interestingly, I looked up the etymology of “gossip” and in its earliest uses it referred to the women hanging around in childbirth (feel free to google yourself if you want more specifics) so that may be why it is used in reference to women more often than to men. But the fact that it has historical use that goes back to women might help explain why it’s thought of as a negative term in a lot of cases. I’m working in my life to combat this negative connotation as much as I can.

      1. Peaknuckle*

        Connecting to what others said above about how “gossip” is associated with groups that feel disempowered, yes – women have definitely been disempowered and so perhaps their only way to feel empowered historically has been to engage in these hostile/relationally aggressive conversations about those who are in power.

        We usually tend to gossip/tear down those who are in some way more powerful, prettier, smarter, wealthier, more talented and so on and maybe less about those who truly are down and out and struggling. My feeling is that we are all empowered as much as we can realize it, and we all have the ability to build people up and connect in healthy ways.

  17. Ruby Soho*

    I generally avoid gossip like the plague, because I learned at a very young age how hurtful it can be. But naturally, I do like a bit of it here and there, so I usually will pick maybe 2 or 3 well-placed people and restrict my gossiping to them only. Like, my manager, someone slightly higher than me in a different department, and someone who sits near the front door or breakroom are all pretty good options. That way, I know my sources are good. If I happen to hear something, I know I can tell them and trust them to handle the info properly. Likewise, I can be a total vault so they can trust me, too. This seems to work well for me.

  18. BellyButton*

    There is something called the Drama Triangle, search for that to help determine what part in the drama are you playing. Are you a victim, a persecutor, or a rescuer? Many people who think they aren’t actively participating in the gossip contribute to it in the rescuer role. That can look a little different depending on the situation and the person. Commonly it shows up as “let me help you” and the rescuer offers advice. But one way that people don’t realize they are contributing to the drama is by validating the victim’s gossip by saying something like “Oh yeah, Simon said something similar to me once” Or ” Yeah, I have heard others say Simon can be that way” or “I can see why you would think/feel that.”

  19. Apt Nickname*

    When I started my current job, there was a coworker who absolutely delighted in being a shit-stirrer. Her favorite thing to do was lure you into saying something uncomplimentary about someone and then repeat it to that someone. For instance, she’d say “Did you know Fergus thinks we should eat babies?” and when you responded with “That’s terrible!”, she’d turn around and say “Fergus, Apt Nickname thinks you’re terrible!” Luckily I caught on quickly and would respond with thing like “Well, that’s certainly one opinion.” She would actually Huff at me when I wouldn’t take the bait. So basically, don’t say anything you wouldn’t want repeated back to the subject and watch who you talk to about anything.

  20. WantonSeedStitch*

    I feel like it’s helpful to set a distinction between “none of my business” gossip and “actually my business” gossip. “Joe’s wearing a tie–bet he’s interviewing somewhere else!” is not cool. That’s Joe’s business, not yours. “Janet said the VP was talking about moving the design team under Meg with the rest of communications instead of filling their open director position” is fine. It’s a strictly business-related topic that could affect the work of the entire office, discussed without judgment attached. If you’re not intruding on someone’s confidential stuff, being mean-spirited, or assuming ill intent in others, it’s OK to share things that are still nebulous.

  21. Standard Human*

    The biggest gossip at my last job came back from maternity leave, said “every hour I’m here is an hour away from my precious baby girl and I don’t want to waste time on petty behavior” and then she didn’t. She had a lot of social capital, it kind of changed the vibe of the whole office. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was impressive.

    Soon after she was promoted repeatedly, and deservedly so.

    1. Plate of Wings*

      Whoa that’s so interesting (and impressive!). I know some people who just excelled at work after parental leave, like they make more out of the same hours they had before. I have always admired that, as a procrastinator with no kids myself.

  22. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I have a gossiper who loves to come in my office and shut the door with that “look.” I listen, grey rock, give the “oh that’s too bads” and other bland responses and she still hasn’t caught on that I literally do not have anything to say about it. I call her the town crier, she should just come down the hall saying “Hear Ye.”

    She did go around talking about salaries and what people make. I told her hey that’s not a good idea. Then management told her on her PIP form that it wasn’t a good idea.

    If I wanted to be back in 6th grade I’d go there.

    1. kiki*

      I believe that your coworker is a gossip and probably starts drama that’s unnecessary BUT discussing what she and her coworkers make is protected (in the US at least) and your organization’s management shouldn’t be including notes about that on a PIP. Perhaps your coworker is going about it in a way that’s unnecessarily gossipy or not tactful, but in general, it’s a taboo that shouldn’t be. Removing secrecy around pay helps ensure everyone is making a fair wage.

  23. Yes And*

    Gossip about professional issues can be dicey as well. I recently had to walk a member of my team back from panicking over an upcoming project she’d heard about through the grapevine. The reason I hadn’t discussed the project with her was because the project was in the very preliminary stages, months before where my department could take any action on it, and nowhere near where I’d have any useful information to convey. Vague rumors of “this is something we’re talking about” just set small fires that I had to put out – and I couldn’t even put them out with a fire hose of real information, because there wasn’t any.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. Anxious people will be anxious, but was she panicking because she already has too much work to do?

      One of my former managers was very cagey about upcoming projects, and every tiny rumor made me anxious because I had enough on my plate as it was. I got a new manager at a time when there was a determined effort by management at my organization to communicate with employees more openly. When I realized that I could trust my new manager to tell us about things we needed to know as early as she could, often before final decisions were made, my anxiety about knowing what was going on almost disappeared and there was also far less gossip because we had access to actual facts.

  24. BloopBloopBloop*

    15: I grew up in a fundamentalist Catholic community where one of our in-community leaders also made a big show out of writing “i” out in lowercase. Her reasoning was that since we capitalize the pronouns of the deity (He, Him, etc), it’s disrespectful to put any other pronouns on the same level by capitalizing them. She would even painstakingly make the first word of the sentence lowercase if that sentence happened to start with a non-godly pronoun.

  25. Lisa Simpson*

    I’ve worked in a number of toxic gossip workplaces. The sort of place where the gossip goes from 0 to WTF really fast. One of my coworkers got accused of conspiracy sabotage for accidentally dropping a Snapple bottle, causing it to break. It was an accident, she missed the trash can by an inch.

    That said my rule for participating in gossip is that I listen to 100% of it and share maybe 10% of it. The more information I vacuum up the better.

  26. PMaster*

    I’ve used a phrase cultivated during Clinton’s presidency: “I refuse to speculate.”

    I’ve also told people straight out that I don’t repeat gossip and don’t want to hear it. If Bob’s retiring and he wants everyone to know, we’ll hear it from Bob.

  27. Old Admin*

    #16: “grew largest pumpkin at the county fair, won a blue ribbon”
    Was his name Almanzo Wilder? ;-)

    (hint: “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

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