Business Etiquette: Avoid the Temptation of Office Gossip

So you just got selected for that coveted internship or landed that new job and you’re trying to find your place in the office. Meeting new people and finding your “in” with your coworkers can be nerve-racking—but be careful not to mistake enticing office gossip for a chance to bond with other employees.

In the business world, perception is reality—if you are perceived as having poor manners or a lack of self-control, it unfortunately won’t matter how capable you are at your job or how well you did or doing in graduate school. Others will most likely view you as untrustworthy.

How to Avoid the Rumor Mill

Here are some tips that should help you avoid getting involved in office gossip.

  • Consider other people’s feelings. Remember what they say and listen when they speak. Don’t cop to hearsay.
  • Stick to your convictions, but don’t be stubborn or disrespectful. If others are gossiping around you, try and be as diplomatic as possible and don’t succumb to the appeal of talking about others.
  • Behave as though your children (or parents) are watching you. Set a good example to your coworkers and avoid spreading the catty remarks of others.
  • Remember that every employee of your company is a part of the greater whole. While not widely recognized, you might be surprised how much bearing the janitor or secretary can have on your day-to-day responsibilities. Although each person has different levels of responsibility, it doesn’t mean he or she isn’t a valuable worker for the company. Remember that each person plays an integral role and without the so-called “little people” the company wouldn’t function on a day-to-day basis.
  • If you find yourself among gossiping peers, switch the topic of conversation from a particular co-worker’s faults to something work-related and positive to distract them.
  • And try to stay away from gossip via e-mail, IM, and social networking sites as well. Just because it’s not spoken verbally doesn’t mean someone might not get wind of it.

Gossip Affects All Levels

And it’s not the so-called “new or entry-level employees” that need to worry about chitchat in the office. Dan McLeod, former president of Positive Management Leadership, a management and leadership training program that provides simulations and experiential learning that test leadership skills in crisis situations such as union campaigns, product safety failures, consumer activism and corporate campaigns, class-actions, and environmental calamities, says upper-level management need to watch out for it too.

“Show me a boss who treats his or her employees abrasively, and I’ll show you an environment ripe for labor problems and obviously poor customer relations. Disrespectful and discourteous treatment of employees is passed along from the top,” he said.

Often, if the president or supervisor of a company pokes fun at his or her employees on a regular basis, such behavior is seen as acceptable. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. That old adage about jumping off a bridge simply because your friends do is true: Hopping on the popular bandwagon can prove fatal for some.

What to Do

If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to speak with your human resources department. While it may seem like small, or even said in jest, office gossip can ruin careers. If you remember to be direct when the gossip reaches your ears, chances are you’ll put an end to it before it hits someone else’s.

Peter Post, co-director of the Emily Post Institute and coauthor of The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success, argues that there is a lot wrong with a little harmless gossip. “Gossiping and rumor-mongering add stress to the workplace,” Post says. “Create stress in the workplace, and you create a situation in which people are not focusing on doing their work.”

At the end of the day it’s imperative to remember that you were hired for a particular job with particular responsibilities. The people you work with shouldn’t be material for comic relief, but instead members of a team all working towards a common goal: making your company as successful as it can be—and office gossip only slows this success down.


This article was written by Natalie Pezzenti

Natalie Pezzenti is a staff editor for Natalie writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.

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