Kat Boogaard

Dear Kat: How Can I Avoid the Office Gossip Trap?

Blog Post created by Kat Boogaard on Nov 11, 2016

It always starts innocently enough: You and a co-worker are huddled around the break room coffee pot, venting about how much work you both have on your plate.


But, that conversation about how overwhelmed you feel quickly spirals into something else—a snarky and rude discussion about how another one of your co-workers is completely useless and isn’t pulling her own weight.


Oh, yes, the pesky trap of office gossip—unfortunately, it’s way too easy to fall into. Believe me when I tell you that it’s prevalent anywhere. And, despite your best efforts to steer clear of it, it can often suck you right in before you even realize what’s happening.


That’s exactly why this week’s “Dear Kat” question is such an important one:


Dear Kat, I know better than to get involved in office gossip. But, I find that’s easier said than done. Sometimes I find myself wrapped up in conversations I know I shouldn’t be a part of, and I can’t figure out how to politely remove myself. Do you have any helpful tips for staying away from office gossip?


First of all, I get it—directly shutting down inappropriate whisper sessions can be uncomfortable. But, it’s bound to be less awkward than getting caught red-handed saying something you shouldn’t, right?


So, no matter how uneasy it makes you, I always recommend doing your best to stay far, far away from office gossip. Here are four key tips to help you out.


1. Don’t Start it

I know what you’re thinking. “Gasp! I would never start gossiping in the office, Kat! I’m just the victim here.”


However, consider this your warning: You could very well be opening the door for a gossipy or negative conversation without even realizing that you’re doing so. This is one of the many reasons you need to be careful about absolutely everything you say in the office.


Don’t even mention that you noticed a co-worker is currently having a closed-door meeting with your boss. Don’t complain about a piece of a project your colleague managed to screw up. Any comments like those can prompt gossip, which isn’t something you want to do.


Use this as your golden rule: If you wouldn’t want the person you’re talking about to hear you, it’s not something you should be saying in the office (or anywhere, really).

2. Remove Yourself From the Situation

Now, let’s say you’ve found yourself in a conversation with some colleagues that you’d rather not be a part of. Your first option is a little more direct: You need to speak up and firmly shut down the discussion.


Don’t get worked up into thinking this requires standing on a soapbox with the national anthem playing in the background. You don’t need to provide a lecture—you just need to make it clear that this isn’t an appropriate topic for conversation.


You can do this by saying something like, “I’m not comfortable talking about that here at work. Hey, how’s your half marathon training going?”


A statement like that makes it clear that the discussion isn’t suitable for the office. However, by immediately changing the topic, you’re able to steer the conversation back to safe territory. Even better, you can continue to build friendly rapport with your co-workers without seeming overly aggressive or condescending.


3. Shut it Down

If you’re having trouble mustering the courage to flat-out steamroll a gossipy conversation in the office, then your next best bet it to simply remove yourself from the situation by walking away.


Yes, I mean you quite literally need to turn around, move your feet, and get far away from that situation—and you need to do so the very second you hear mention of something that makes you uneasy.


I won’t even try to admit that this is the most tactful communication approach. However, it’s much better than accidentally getting wrapped up in that discussion or having to stand there nodding along—even though you know this is something that shouldn’t be talked about.


So, when in doubt, just run away. It sounds crazy, but you can’t argue that it’s effective.

4. Spread Positivity

Anyone who has ever worked in an office setting before knows that negative attitudes are contagious—they spread just like wildfire. But, I like to think that positivity can be just as catching.


So, make it your personal responsibility to bring some positivity into your own workplace, rather than letting those snide and rude conversations take over. Compliment a co-worker on the project she completed or bring in a treat for everybody to share.


They might seem like small changes. But, they can make a big difference in lifting everyone’s spirits and reinforcing a team atmosphere.


You know it’s best to stay away from office gossip. But, all too often, that’s easier said than done.


Rather than standing there trying to tune out that conversation you know you shouldn’t be a part of, give one of these above four tips a try to steer clear of those pesky discussions altogether!


I’d love to know, how do you avoid office gossip? Any other tips to share?