In the best office environments, teamwork means working together toward a common goal, helping each other and cheering others on to be their best. Unfortunately, teamwork is not guaranteed.
Some offices have unhealthy dynamics, where co-workers gossip about each other and compete aggressively for opportunities and promotions. Such offices can be toxic to work in, but sometimes you must tolerate an unpleasant workspace while you search for a better job.
You must walk a fine line to maintain your integrity an thrive in a toxic workplace. You don’t want to get caught up in the schemes and conflicts of others, but you also don’t want to be caught off guard by such behavior. Learning how to handle office politics and gossip can help you get ahead despite the actions of others. The sections below go over basic techniques you can use to put a stop to office gossip.
When office gossip gets ugly or you become the target of an attack, you may be tempted to fire back some shots of your own. However, aggressively confronting a co-worker or starting your own rumors can easily backfire. In retaliating this way, you appear petty or vindictive, which could lead to more problems.
Supervisors who disapprove of the office gossip will notice you participating as well. If you are caught lying or participating, your reputation could be tarnished in the eyes of your managers. If your office participates in gossiping, avoid participating as much as possible. Remain cordial with your co-workers, avoid repeating rumors you’ve heard and do not create any of your own.
When gossip starts in the break room or conversation gets nasty at an after-hours watering hole, change the subject or ask your co-workers to moderate their conversation. Even if you agree with their opinions, sharing that does not benefit office dynamics.
In some instances, you may need to take a co-worker aside and voice your concerns about the impact the gossiping behavior has on the team. In other instances, you can defend the co-worker being discussed in order to shut down the conversation. By making it clear you are not interested in participating, your co-workers may feel pressured to change the subject — at least around you.
Most workplace bullies try to divide and conquer. Their goal is to isolate co-workers they see as a threat, so these co-workers no longer feel part of the team. If this is happening to you, do not let the feeling of isolation continue. Reach out to others on your team for support and look for other individuals who may have been treated similarly.
Related Article: Navigating Co-Worker Conflicts
Discuss the situation, support each other and work to contain and minimize the bully’s ability to keep demeaning others. Office bullies are only able to torment co-workers if nobody stands up to them. Keep in mind this is not about striking back at the office bully. It is about disarming him or her so he or she is no longer a threat.
If gossip is rampant and there is widespread back office politics or backstabbing taking place in your office, it may be time to take a closer look at the business as a whole. There may be a reason your co-workers are frantically gossiping and exchanging private information.
For example, when company leaders stop disseminating information and have shut down the lines of communication, people become suspicious. They may fear restructuring, lay-offs or other problems. If they no longer have proper guidance, they may feel confused and unsure of their job security.
It is easy to place blame and speculate about possible upcoming disasters when the company or team is leaderless. If need be, take the problem up the ladder. Management should be aware of behaviors that can damage employee morale and their potential causes. Once this has been addressed, rumors and fear start to dissipate, and things can go back to business as usual.
Rising above office politics does not mean you have to withdraw completely or stay out of the limelight. If you do, you are simply giving office gossips and bullies fuel for the fire. They may whisper you are not a team player, or no one knows what you are really doing since you never leave your cubicle.
Fight back by standing proudly by your work and making sure your superiors know what you have accomplished. Work harder, do more and help the team shine. If you do this, you can get admirers and supporters.
Helping others with their work and being genuinely nice to everyone helps protect you from office politics. No one wants to betray their mentor or the person who helped them finish a difficult report on a tight deadline.
Whether someone insinuates you are not pulling your weight or takes credit for your work, calling them out is almost always ineffective without proof. Having a record of your work can help you if you become the victim of a rumor about your productivity.
Mention what you are working on regularly to coworkers and your boss so everyone knows where you are. Keep a detailed calendar and share your work with others when appropriate. If you are asked about your work ethic, you have proof in writing backing up your dedication to your job.
Some forms of office politics are subtle. The office bully does not necessarily call you out or openly criticize you, but he or she undermines you in a hundred little ways to show disrespect for you. Attending meetings late, neglecting to get work to you on time and other passive aggressive gestures can have a profound effect in the workplace.
Rather than lashing out at these co-workers, smother them with kindness. When they turn in something late, thank them for getting it to you. Praise their work when you have the opportunity, or mention to your co-workers how helpful they were in completing a project. Extending a kind hand to someone can make him or her feel guilty about previous negative actions and change their behavior.