This is the year to stop gossiping at the office

office gossip

It’s 2017. If you still run around the office, whisper about your coworkers’ lives, and snicker in the hallways, this post is for you.

Let’s start by stating the obvious. Gossiping feels good. It feels so fucking good to know something that other people don’t know. It feels powerful to be the one who lets them in on the secret. To be the one who doles out information. And to feel like you’re getting away with something.

Here’s the news flash — ready? You’re not powerful and you’re not getting away with anything. You’re screwing yourself, big time. Let’s take a moment to break it down…

Happy people don’t gossip

If you are more interested in the lives of your coworkers than in your own day-to-day, there’s a good chance you’re unhappy about the state of your own life. Office gossip is a phenomenal distraction. It’s fun, it’s salacious, and it’s utterly unrelated to you getting your actual work done.

That high you get off of knowing things that nobody else knows? That fades. You know what sticks? Having a rep as the office gossip.

When you gossip at work, you’re waving a giant fucking flag that indicates that you are unhappy — either with work or with your own life. You may not have put the flag up intentionally but here’s the g-d’s honest truth: happy, engaged, productive people who are riding an amazing professional high don’t have time to hole up in a conference room and talk about who got wasted at the accounting team’s offsite. And they don’t care.

It’s simply not possible to be in a good, mature spot and take time out of your day to armchair quarterback other people’s life choices, fashion missteps, or accidental overindulgence at Friday’s office Beer Thirty. Not happening.

Your teammates can see it. Your manager can see it. Her boss can see it too. It doesn’t matter who you’re whispering to, it becomes very clear that you’re distracted. And without focus, you’re not operating at your professional best.

Gossiping about your coworkers says more about you than it does about them

This one sounds like something your mom would say if there were a kid being mean to you in the school yard. It’s chock-full of that nostalgic elementary school wisdom that you wish was still enough to run large parts of your universe.

But life is complicated. Humans are fucking complicated. And they make things tricky that ought to be relatively straightforward.

Don’t be mean. Don’t be shitty. Don’t be spiteful.

People who gossip in the office rarely think they are being mean or shitty or spiteful. They may tell themselves they are engaging in information warfare. They are staying in the loop. They are keeping a finger on the pulse of the office.

But ask anyone who has spent substantial time on the receiving end of it. They will tell you it feels an awful lot like the bullshit that defined so much of middle school for so many of us.

I may have made a poor life or fashion choice on my way into the office today. Your decision to talk about my poor life or fashion choice is by far the poorer choice because…

People who gossip have a reputation as people who gossip

That high you get off of knowing things that nobody else knows? That fades. You know what sticks? Having a reputation as the office gossip.

You know how people know you gossip? You told them.

office gossip

Seriously. You told them when you leaned over in the meeting and whispered while your colleague was presenting. But maybe they passed that off as you making a relevant comment about the presentation.

You told them again when, unprompted, you shared someone else’s news on their behalf.

You told them a third time when you convened your colleagues after hours and found the only thing to talk about was someone else’s life.

However hard you think it is to ditch a reputation as the office slut, it’s nothing compared to the long term and profound professional damage of not being trusted with confidential information.

I’ve seen companies withhold promotions for employees with gossipy reps. And I’ve had it come up on reference calls for prospective employees. These folks may have no idea that they are carrying this monkey around on their back from the last job to the next job and every one thereafter. Until, that is, they resolve to put it down.

Not your circus. Not your monkey.

In my PR days, I used to have to carry a lot of confidences. Part of being ready when the New York Times calls for comment is having the full context. People need to tell you things and they need to know they aren’t going anywhere. That’s how you earned trust. That’s how you got access. That’s how you were able to do the job and do it well.

PR teaches you when to go loud and when to stay quiet. Unless someone is paying you or has expressly solicited you to tell their story for them, best to stay quiet.

Happy 2017.

This article was syndicated with permission from The Co-Pour

Melissa Nightingale

Melissa Nightingale

Melissa Nightingale is a founder and partner at Raw Signal Group. She is co-editor of The Co-pour and co-author of a book about modern leadership (coming fall 2017). Melissa’s been a startup warrior since the first dotcom boom and has the branded t-shirt collection to prove it. She has held senior leadership roles in marketing, pr, and strategy at several fast paced startups, including Wattpad, Edmodo, and Mozilla. Melissa moved to Toronto after more than a decade of working in senior tech roles in Silicon Valley. She is gradually adjusting to seasons.