Workplace gossip can be costly to your career

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005

Gossip isn't just reserved for magazines and television. In fact, one of the most common places to be surrounded by gossip is at the workplace. But don't rush to spread the word about your co-worker's relationship woes just yet. If you care about your job - and in order to stay out of trouble - it's always a good idea to avoid contributing to office gossip at any time.

"The big risk with contributing to office gossip is that - because all communication of it is veiled in secrecy - the message conveyed can be altered by any participant in the communication chain to the detriment of any previous participant," says Rob Bennett, Purcellville, Va.-based author of "Passion Saving: The Path to Plentiful Free Time and Soul-Satisfying Work" (The Freedom Store, $24).

Spreading stories

Bennett says that if you spread a rumor about someone - your boss, for example - it can easily be changed by someone whether you know it or not. And when it comes time for your manager to track down the source, you'll be blamed, no matter how outrageous the message has become.

"The boss might hear that message and the attribution of the rumor to you may sound believable even though no formal proof of it was put forward," Bennett says.

Worse yet is when people spread the wrong information.

"Most people don't take the time to really listen and hear both sides of what's being said and not said," says Arthur Gallego, vice president of LaForce & Stevens, a public relations firm in New York. "Poor listeners are the most dangerous gossipers and often contribute to counterproductive office politics."

Leave it alone

The best way to avoid this potential drama is to avoid gossip altogether.

"If you earn a reputation for never participating in gossip, it is less likely that you will pay a price for saying things you didn't actually say," says Gallego.

But that's easier said than done. According to Gallego, everyone loves to gossip at least a little bit.

"Everyone enjoys it, whether it's water cooler chat about Brad and Angelina or which employee quit or was fired," he says. "However, while we enjoy it, it is dangerous."

For one, gossip undermines your professional credibility. People often view co-workers who gossip as lacking discretionary skills.

"There's also the perception that they're not working," says Gallego. "How can they be if they're busy gossiping? It's a superficial observation, but one that can have an impact on your workplace image."

Another danger involved with gossip is the issue of morale.

"Gossip plays on peoples' own insecurities," says Gallego. "Many people derive a lot of self-worth from their job and workplace, and gossip potentially contributes to the erosion of that self-worth."

- Rob Kallick

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