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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Workplace Issues: Strategies for Dealing with Office Politics and Malicious Gossip

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times by John Tierney called Can You Believe How Mean Office Gossip Can Be.  It was based on a journal article in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 


Workplace Issues:  Strategies for Dealing With Office Politics and Malicious Gossip

Considering the fact the many of us spend at least eight or more hours in an office and gossip is part of most organizations, this is an important issue to explore.

Years prior to my becoming a psychotherapist, I was a human resource manager. In my prior career. I saw, first hand, the negative effects of gossip, which included undermining and, in some cases, ruining people's career.

Workplace Issues: Strategies for Dealing With Office Politics and Malicious Gossip

People engage in office gossip for all sorts of reasons. Some people, who work in organizations where there are reorganizations or layoffs looming, gossip to deal with the stress of the situation, the lack of information, and to try to give and get information. The problem is that the information is often wrong.

Other people gossip to vent about the boss or top management when they feel disempowered in their work environment. The obvious danger with this is that you could lose your job if the boss finds out that you're talking about him/her. The other problem is that this kind of gossip can undermine your entire office, which could have repercussions in how others, including future prospective employers, see you. They could easily say, "If the boss is a incompetent, everyone under him is probably incompetent too.
Workplace Issues: Strategies for Dealing with Office Politics and Malicious Gossip

Even if you don't lose your job because you're gossiping about the boss, frequent malicious gossip can produce a toxic office environment where the group's dissatisfaction grows, festers, and feeds on itself, reducing morale and making it a very unpleasant place to work.

Some people gossip because they're bored or dissatisfied with their jobs. Others hope to form certain alliances among a particular group of employees while alienating other employees.

Gossiping might seem like a harmless diversion and it might bring about a certain temporary cohesiveness within the group where the gossiping is taking place. But there is usually a certain amount of suspicion within the group, "If he's gossiping about her, he's probably gossiping about me too." And, of course, this is often the case.

Workplace Issues: Strategies for Dealing With Office Politics and Malicious Gossip

One situation that was not explored in the article is when employees purposely start a cycle of gossip as a way to intentionally sabotage an employee. If you happen to be that employee, it can be extremely difficult to combat this form of sabotage because you might not be able to find out who started it and you might not be able to control it due to the covert nature of the gossip.

When you're in a work setting where there's a lot of office gossip, it's hard to avoid. John Tierney's article suggests certain strategies if you happen to be part of a gossipy group and you feel uncomfortable.

One suggestion is to say something positive about the person being maligned. According to the article, this makes it difficult for others to continue to talk negatively about that person. Another strategy is to change the subject, a subtle suggestion that you're not interested in engaging in this gossip. A third recommendation is that you suggest, in a tactful manner, that you and others get back to work.

Workplace Issues:  Strategies for Dealing with Office Politics and Malicious Gossip

In my opinion, one of the most effective strategies for discouraging office gossip is for top management to encourage employees to come forward with their dissatisfaction.

Now we all know that many managers talk a good game about having an "open door policy," but not all of them mean it. Employees quickly pick up on the disingenuousness of this, and it creates more bad feelings. But if employees see that top management is genuinely concerned and problems are addressed and resolved, this can go a long way towards decreasing office gossip.

But what can you do if the boss is the one who is gossiping to you about his/her colleagues, superiors or your coworkers? This situation is not addressed in the article. This is obviously a very ticklish situation where you may be damned if you do and damned if you don't join in the conversation with your boss.

Tact and diplomacy are essential, and you might suddenly "remember" that important call that you need to make to a client or the report that's due today, making it necessary to excuse yourself. If possible, you might also consider looking for another job before it's your turn to be the object of your boss's disaffection.

Whether we like it or not, gossip is a fact of life in most offices. Men and women both engage in it.

It can be annoying, uncomfortable, and make you feel like you're back in junior high school again. Learning to deal with office gossip requires tact and maturity as you balance your need not to participate in malicious gossip with the reality that, for as long as you're in this work environment, you still need to work with the worst offenders of office gossip.

I am a NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients deal with workplace and career issues.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 of email me: josephineolivia@aol.com.


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