If you listen to gossip, you are an accomplice to robbery.

Rick Warren says in The Purpose Driven Life that:

Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it makes you just as guilty of the crime.

How to stop office gossip
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If you think that gossip ends when you hear it, even if you don’t spread it, you are sadly mistaken. Simply listening to a gossip is an act of approval.

This is not a post about not spreading gossip. If you are spreading gossip yourself, I can’t help you there other than to say “grow up and shut up, you big baby!”

This post is about being a hardcore, militant gossip-stopper. This is about hating gossip like an Auburn fan hates Alabama. This is about shedding your “Mr. Nice Guy” cloak and donning a “Gossip Stops Here” super hero cape.

Here are four ways to put gossip in its rightful place: in the dirt, stomped on, twisted into the ground.

1. Get ready to rumble.

This is no time to be nice. Politeness should not even be a consideration here. Don’t be gentle or let them down easy. Are you gentle and easy with a thief? These people possess stolen property. They are invading your otherwise pure personal space and filling it with garbage. Don’t be soft. It’s time to put your foot down. Hard!

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2. Call them out.

Firmly tell them that what they are doing is wrong and you are absolutely not going to listen to it. They’re poisoning your mind and just as you have a right to fight back when someone is bullying you, you have a right to shut a gossip up. It might sound like this: “Joe, before you go any further, I hate gossip. It tears down team unity and really ticks me off. I’m done listening and I hope you’re done talking.” That was the nice version by the way.

3. Walk away.

Maybe #2 sounds too hard for you. Maybe you’re the passive aggressive type and are working up the courage to take a stand. One day you will get there, but for now, just walk away. Literally the moment you hear, “Did you hear what Jim said about Kate?” start walking. This is also a great way to supplement #2. Like Eminem in the movie 8 Mile…call them out, drop the mic and walk away.

4. If you are in a position to do so, institute a no-gossip policy.

This is a pillar of Entreleadership. I love Dave Ramsey’s approach to this, and if you can, I highly encourage you to put a no-gossip policy in place.

Here is the no-gossip policy: No gossiping. 

You get one warning. The second time, you’re fired. That is the way to handle a gossip.

As easy as these appear to some, they are frightening to others. It’s a lot easier to just listen politely, imply that their message is worth spreading, and then have negative thoughts rattle around in your head all day.

If you really want to stop gossip, you’ll get mean about it. (Click Here to Tweet That)

How have you seen gossip poison a culture and how have you stopped it in its tracks?

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22 thoughts on “Four Ways to Shut Up an Office Gossip

  1. Todd Liles says:

    I agree with the “no gossip” policy. Just one note: When you come down hard on the person that is gossiping, make sure that you are one-on-one. I have found that gossip is usually done in groups. If you drop the bomb on a group of people that are all in the heat of the moment, then you may lose the person to make your point. Find a way to break the gossip up, and then talk to the gossipers one-on-one. I will be the first to admit how hard this is for me. I want to pounce on these things, but that is usually not the best way to connect.

    1. Bob Winchester says:

      That is a great point Todd! Thanks for reigning me in a little. I was ready to kick some butt this morning!

      1. Todd Liles says:

        Bob,  my pleasure.  🙂

        ——– Original message ——–

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      Totally Todd.

      Stomping out gossip is negative feedback and negative feedback should always be delivered one-on-one…oh that reminds me…I need to do a series on feedback, my favorite topic of them all!

      1. Todd Liles says:

        Go for it!  I look forward to reading them.

        ——– Original message ——–

  2. Bob Winchester says:

    I couldn’t agree with this post more! I’ve personally watched as one or two “leaders” have allowed this to become a cancer in an organization; affecting almost everyone.

    The only thing I’m not sure about is the word “gossip”. I know that’s how Dave defines it, but for many people, they don’t understand the definition. It’s important to preface your meanness by saying “pass it up or don’t pass it”. In other words, tell someone that can do something about!

    I’ve personally been guilty of just letting this stuff slide. Heck, I’m sure I’ve even been guilty of falling in the trap. Not today!! I’m fired up!!!

    This is a great reminder Matt! I’m tweeting this one for sure!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Yeehaw Bob!

      Do it. And of course follow @ToddLiles:disqus advice too 🙂

  3. Dan Erickson says:

    Great ideas to stop gossip. But another question comes to mind: what is gossip? Where do we draw the line between talking about others and situations and gossip? I think we’re all guilty of talking about others while they’re not present. Is that gossip? Or does t have to be malicious?

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Interesting question Dan.

      I really, truly believe the answer is simpler than we think.

      If it feels like gossip to the receiver or the gossiper, it is.

      I know, I know, that leaves a little gray area, but it accounts for 95% of gossip. If something is truly in that gray area and we need a committee to discern if what Sally said was truly gossip, was it that bad?

      Plus if something falls into that gray area, you can easily make a statement like “Joe some people might consider that to be gossip. Just wanted to let you know that I can see it that way too and you should be careful about saying that.”

      Message sent kindly.

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        Good points, Matt. We can usually tell when we or someone else has crossed that line.

  4. Jon Stolpe says:

    This happens in the business world, but it happens just as often (if not more) in the church world. When this occurs I would highly recommend following the Biblical standard for handling conflict. My buddy, Frank Chiapperino, wrote an excellent guest post for my blog about Managing Conflict (A Leadership Stretch) – http://www.jonstolpe.com/2012/01/18/managing-conflict/

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Nice one Jon.

      Everyone, read that link that Jon put above!

  5. Great post. Stopping it has to start at the top and needs to be a part of the company’s “code of ethics”.
    I just did a new employee orientation and we talked about this post. It was a great conversation.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      You did? Wow Jim. That is awesome. Made my week!

      Glad I could spark some conversation!

  6. I find gossip within the body of the church is worse than workplace gossip. Somehow the workplace gossip is usually more transparent – the goals are obvious – tear someone down, build yourself up – tarnish, tar and feather. But the church gossip hides behind the facade of “concern”, “pity” – and worse of all “prayer details”. Oh please. Work stuff tends to sluff off – but church gossip is so hurtful. Why oh why do we eat our own?
    When someone approaches me, after I realize it is gossip, I usually say something like: “Oh – I think that sounds like something that “insert name here” should tell me if they want me to know. It is their account to tell – and until then – it is none of my business.”
    Most people are brought up by that statement – as it basically says they shouldn’t be saying what they are saying. Yet, it doesn’t say I am not interested in the person involved.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Great points Lulu.

      I have been fortunate enough to have never been involved in church gossip. I’m not sure if it’s because I seem like the type who wouldn’t listen to it or because I’ve gone to awesome churches, or something else.

      I think it’s so sad, like you say, when people use the excuse “so I pray for you better,” to get the more “juicy details.” Really? That part about “God knows what you need before you ask” must have escaped them.

      I’m pretty sure that the following prayer is effective: “Lord, I heard that Joe is having a rough time. I don’t know what it is, but I pray for him and his family…”

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Dan Black says:

    I really like Dave Ramsey’s no gossip policy. It’s one way to create a positive work environment. I make sure to put my foot down when someones starts to gossip to me.

    Great post!

  8. Chance Smith says:

    #2- ‘Your are stealing a form of their/my information property…’ I love the imagery you put there.

    I added this into my teams core values last year and it really changes even the way my wife and I talk about our work at home. I do find the lines get a little blurry when seeking advice from each other at home. Your thoughts Matt?

    Get mean or get out. Thanks Matt!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I think when you are talking with your wife, the heart behind the sharing is important.

      If the purpose is to share the juicy news with your wife, it’s gossip.

      If the purpose is to seek wisdom on how to handle a situation, it’s not.

      I think it’s that simple.

  9. Melinda Todd says:

    Of course I’ve seen it. Even worse, is when you find out the real story and it is NOTHING like what the gossiper shared. Those people are definitely poison and you better be careful how friendly you are with them because you’re guaranteed to be a victim of their gossip. Good advice.

  10. Melinda Todd says:

    One of my favorite phrases over the past couple of years in dealing with friends who always want “advice” veiled as gossip is, “Have you prayed about it as much as you’ve talked about it?” It shuts them right up. And then I can offer to pray with them for a solution and move the conversation elsewhere.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Good one Melinda!

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