What To Do About Destructive Office Gossip
Alex, Can you settle a dispute between myself and my co-worker? A real estate agent in my office recently went a little crazy with juicy gossip about a client. Not only did she spread the stories through our office, but she told people at the mortgage company, the title service, the buildings department, and even other clients. She says that she wasn’t trying to be malicious. Personally, I think that she liked to be the center of attention and the story was so bizarre, everyone wanted to know the details. Eventually the client herself heard the gossip.
Problem, the gossip turned out to be completely untrue and now the rumors are having an adverse effect on the client’s business and reputation.
I think that my co-worker needs to set the record straight, at minimum tell people that she had gossiped to that the info was wrong, and apologize to the client. She feels that she should just let it go and people will forget about it.
What do you think?
Gossip can be such a thrilling and guilty pleasure. The rush of sharing a secret, especially one that is salacious or scandalous, the feeling of importance as all eyes (or ears) are on you, the power over someone else’s reputation, it can all be very addicting and hugely damaging. And not just to the victim of the gossip.
GOSSIP CAN DAMAGE YOUR REPUTATION
People may flock to hear the latest gossip, but no one trusts the person who circulates rumors. Think about it, if you spread stories about people when they aren’t around, most people will assume that you spread stories about them when they aren’t around.
Gossip often focuses on superficial or moral value judgement issues. This makes the gossiper appear petty, insecure, and mean.
GOSSIP CAN DAMAGE SOMEONE ELSE’S REPUTATION
While gossiping can seem like “harmless fun,” it can be tremendously destructive. Jobs have been lost, career’s derailed, marriages destroyed, and families ripped apart because of the “harmless fun” of a bored, gossipy co-worker or the accusations of a disgruntled or malicious associate.
As a culture we tend to believe the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and so even if people don’t necessarily believe the full scope of the gossip, they often walk away feeling less positive about the object of the gossip.
So to answer your question….in my opinion…it is grossly irresponsible for the agent in your office to just say nothing and hope it goes away. That’s not the way that people behave in a civilized society. She has essentially mowed this woman down with her car. She can’t simply say “well it wasn’t malicious” and then drive away. She has set a chain of events into motion and even if the intent was not malicious, she needs to do whatever she can to mitigate the damage.
But few people would willingly stand up and admit to friends and co-workers that they lied or spread rumors. The fact is, people (even the really nice ones) are self-preservationists.
The agent can create a scenario where she repairs as much damage as she can, without making herself look bad. I suggest an email that she can send to her colleagues, co-workers, and all of the other people to whom she spread the rumors. An email helps insure that the agent won’t have to face people and take responsibility for her words.
I has come to my attention that information shared with you about _______________ is inaccurate. It was with best intentions that I shared with you, after receiving the information from a 3rd party. But it is now clear that the information provided to me and shared with you was defamatory, false, and designed to harm _____________.
Again, I apologize for forwarding false and inflammatory information about _________________ and hope that those communications will not be relied upon in any way.
Sending this sort of email helps to undo some of the damage that the agent has done to the object of the rumors. It also helps to repair her own reputation as an untrustworthy gossip.
In a perfect world, the gossip would apologize to the person that she wronged with her rumor spreading, but that would require a mia culpa that most gossipy types are unable to muster. Though I would expect that the person the agent wronged won’t want to work with her any longer and would be hard pressed to get a recommendation.
updated from April 2017 original post