How Do I Avoid Office Gossip?

Q: My boss is one of the biggest gossips in the office. When we meet, he tries to bring me into it, telling me what the newest gossip is, what his theories are on other people in the office, etc. It makes me uncomfortable, but I feel I have to join in because he’s my boss. How can I aviod being a part of what I don’t think is really all that nice without ticking off my boss by not joining in?

Navigating office gossip can be a difficult situation, made worse by the fact that the person initiating the gossip is your boss. So I acknowledge your willingness to find ways of not participating.

It’s good practice to know what is going on in the office as it can prove helpful to navigate your way through your workday, or pick the timing to pitch a new idea or ask for a promotion. But if the office banter is just about engaging in a negative discussion about a fellow colleague, I agree with your desire to not be a part of it.

Here are a couple of practical suggestions to avoid the office gossip circle:

Highlight something nice or noble about the colleague.

The next time your boss tries to include you in his newest gossip about other colleagues, try to change the subject. Highlight something great or noble about the person in question; perhaps mention what a great parent they are and give examples of how active they are in coaching their kid’s sports team, perhaps they volunteer at a local charity or you witnessed a kind act they did in the office. It’s hard to speak negatively about someone in the face of good news.

Always have a work topic in mind.

If you find yourself cornered in the office unable to get away, think of a work topic you’d like to discuss with your boss — pitch an idea, get his input to solve a problem, ask him for advice. Keeping your discussions professional and work related is another proactive way of changing the topic. And if he’s committed in any way to his job, it’s hard for him to negate your enthusiasm for “always wanting to talk shop.”

Excuse yourself from the situation.

Excuse yourself and physically leave the discussion, whether you say you are on your way to a meeting, about to make an urgent telephone call or even say you are heading to the bathroom. Come across as friendly, but gracefully exit the situation and don’t engage with your boss.

Speak to your boss directly.

If you feel comfortable speak to your boss and tell him how you feel. You can have the conversation in a friendly but direct manner and tell him that speaking about others when they are not present makes you feel uncomfortable. Chances are if you’re feeling uncomfortable others probably do as well. To give your boss the benefit of the doubt, maybe he isn’t even aware that his behavior is causing you or others upset. He may appreciate you being honest with him.

Consult with Human Resources.

Many companies have programs in place where bullying of any kind is either strongly discouraged or zero tolerance. You could inquire about the programs available in your company. Perhaps further training with employees, including your boss could be provided.

Finally, it’s also worth taking a pause any time there is a temptation to compromise our own values and integrity just to please the boss (or anyone else for that matter). In this instance it is office gossip, but it could be any number of other instances where there is a temptation to compromise your values and integrity for the sake of people pleasing. A question for reflection: Is the consequence of my self-abandonment and self-betrayal worth it to avoid the negative repercussions of another person’s anger or rejection?

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