Situation 39: Nasty office gossip

Mansy heard through the grapevine some interesting information about “Boss”. He is discussing it with his colleagues. When Femsy enters the room, Mansy invites her into the office gossip. Femsy “neutralizes” the situation.

(Click on the pictures to see them in full size)

A great leader:

  • Shows respect for her colleagues;
  • Quickly and effectively deals with people who spread (negative) gossip;
  • Reinforces the positive aspects of the organizational culture.

How to best handle the situation:

It is important to stop this behaviour, so you need to speak directly to the person(s) who is spreading the gossip. Do this in a private setting, one-on-one. Since you are peers this is a tricky conversation to have, so behave with sensitivity and care.

During the conversation you can try different approaches depending upon the individual and the response that you receive:

  1. Handle this conversation in the same way that you would other types of feedback; be specific about their behavior; your goal is help the person understand the effect they are having on you and others. Ask them what is the reason behind them sharing the gossip with you (and others); what is really bothering them? This gives the person a chance to open up about some issue that is concerning them related to the subject of the gossip.
  2. Advise the individual that you will follow-up with the person who is the target of the gossip so that he/she is aware of what is being said and can choose to respond.
  3. Politely request that he/she refrains from spreading rumors and gossip since this is distracting and harmful to the organizational culture.

If possible, try to get at the underlying reason why this individual is engaging in negative personal gossip.

In addition, role model the behaviour that you want to see in others i.e. never engage in gossip about your colleagues. Be prepared to state that you do not believe this to be an appropriate topic of conversation.

Learning suggestions:

  • Review the existing organizational culture; what behaviors get rewarded and promoted? How do these align with the espoused organizational values? What can you do to promote more ethical behaviors in your colleagues?
  • Examine how you interact with your colleagues. Do you speak out even when it is difficult to do so to ensure that the ‘right thing’ gets done? Are there some situations in which you shy away from taking a stand? Analyse these to see if there are any patterns. What are your underlying concerns? How can you resolve these?
  • Consider how effective you are at influencing others. What do you do when you are most successful? How can you leverage these skills of persuasion to convince them to behave in ethical ways at all times?


Office gossip can be tantalizing, particularly when there is some ‘juicy’ news about someone else. Always resist the urge to join in the discussion and speculation.

Femcommunity tips:

We welcome your thoughts, experiences and comments on how you would deal with such a situation.

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