Office gossip can plague a workplace if it gets out of control. One of the primary problems with gossip is the fact it tends to spread. Quickly. It can be likened to poison ivy. The uncomfortable aspects of gossip can irritate and/or hurt those who are caught up in the infectious cycle. Worse, for those who might find themselves in the unfortunate position of being the target.

To handle office gossip, it is important to first understand what it is, how it perpetuates and also how it affects those involved.

Birds gossiping
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Types of Gossip

There are two types of gossip that typically takes place along the pipeline on the job - personal and work-related. Each type has its own set of challenges, and each can be hard to deal with when this kind of talk in the office is present.

A survey by CareerBuilder suggests 42 percent of people waste time gossiping at work, citing gossip as the #2 "productivity killer". 2 Another survey, cited by TeamWorks, suggests 15 percent of employees "occasionally" gossip and 21 percent "regularly" gossip. According to that survey, each gossip session lasted an average of 15 minutes, wasting a total of 65 hours a year.

When gossip is personal this can cause significant problems for the person being targeted. This is because it can cause irrevocable damage to his or her reputation, harm chances for promotion and also cause people to dislike the subject of the gossip, creating an interference with work relationships.

Work-related gossip can result in unwarranted fear, anger or stress. It is not uncommon for people to speculate what management is thinking about doing or going to do. In the survey cited by TeamWorks, a whopping 86 percent of workplace gossip was related to corporate challenges. There's nothing wrong with a bit of harmless speculation, but when rumors are spread as truth this can become problematic internally. And externally too, especially if customers get wind of the gossip.

Gossip ear
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Harmful or Harmless?

Gossip can be harmful or harmless, but either way it tends to spread quickly. By human nature people like to converse, and gossip is one way those who have either everything in common or nothing in common can bond.

Some gossip is malicious while other talk is idle chitchat with no real harm intent. However, even if harmless in nature, it can end up leading to resentment, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, wrong preconceived notions and conflict. Not to mention the impact the gossip has on the aforementioned productivity.

Find yourself working in an environment ladled with gossip? The best way to handle office gossip is to stay away from it as much as possible. This way you aren't caught up in the drama, you can avoid becoming a target and also maintain a professional demeanor in the workplace. That being said, avoidance isn't always possible and sometimes those who don't engage become the center of attention. If avoiding the office gossip is not possible, there are ways to confront and/or handle it.

Know the Backstabbers

Like the aforementioned poison ivy, it's important to first recognize who the backstabbers are. Once those predatory colleagues are identified, you can make a concentrated effort to avoid them as they slither around looking for juicy nuggets of conversation to twist and use for their own gain.

Poison Ivy
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Gossip can be likened to poison ivy. It might look harmless on the surface, but can really create problems.

Even if these people are nice to your face but you see them being unkind or gossiping about others, chances are it is happening behind your back too. Do not trust the backstabber or give him or her any information to talk about and, above all, never confide anything to this person. Usually, no one is off-bounds to the backstabber. He or she generally carries his or her own agenda and eventually your confidence will be breached.

Be Proactive

In most any given situation it is always best to be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of reacting negatively to gossip through outrage or engaging in the talk just to appease colleagues, try reacting carefully and calmly.

There is no reason to react immediately, as impulsive reactions often backfire, but biding time and carefully planning a diplomatic response at the right moment can be very effective. It is entirely possible to remain neutral and yet discreetly express your feelings. Being proactive can often keep you out of the gossip loop and, at the same time, avoid making you a target.

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Embracing gossip can put a bullseye on one's back.

Avoid Confrontation and Don't Take the Bait

This is not always going to work, but wherever possible, avoid and do not engage in the gossip. Since being confrontational often escalates a gossip problem, it is best to remain even-tempered and rational. When confrontation happens, this is usually the golden ticket to the next go-around of gossip, don't get snared into the trap. If the bait is avoided, the trap can't snag you.

Office gossip is often a tricky situation to deal with during the workday. However, keeping out of the circle as much as possible and not allowing yourself to get engaged is often the best approach and keeps you from getting drawn into the center of the workplace drama. Avoid contact where possible and, when it is not realistic to avoid, be diplomatic. Engaging in gossip often comes back to harm, especially if it becomes malicious.

Ultimately, you can't control what other colleagues do when it comes to gossip, but you do have control over your own actions. By not repeating this rumors, mean comments or unflattering stories (or starting it), this decreases the problem and, as far as you're affected, the poison ivy roots dry up and won't give you the itch that comes with it.