Almost everyone gossips at some point. The most common definition of gossip is ‘any conversation between two or more people about another who is not present’, and if you have never been in this situation then you must be the only exception! Gossip is difficult to avoid – you have to be aware at all times as you could be dragged into gossiping innocently. You can reduce the likelihood that any gossip will be about you or your work by remaining professional at all times. Some people who gossip enjoy disrespecting people so you need to prevent that by not giving them any ‘fuel to light the fire’.
Gossip often has a negative connotation because discussions about people are not always based on known fact but rather on assumptions. For example, speculation about non-existent office affairs creates needless harm to the reputations of two people and causes upset and disruption that can have knock-on effects for their families.
People gossip about their company, colleagues, managers and salaries. Such talk is often based on either assumption or exaggeration, which is not helped when it is passed on from one person to another. Gossips want to know about what’s going on with everyone and about work issues, and often can’t wait to spread what they have learned.
Spreading negative information about colleagues can create a lot of trouble and resentment. Any information that might damage another person should never be repeated or agreed with. You should never talk disrespectfully about your previous employer or any past or current colleagues as you will be perceived as being unprofessional, indiscreet, negative, a ‘gossiper’ and a possible trouble causer.
Assistants can act as ‘the eyes and ears’ of the boss. Part of your role as an assistant is to know as much as you can about what is happening in the business and to make sure you know everything that is going on around you within your area, your company and indeed your industry and even your competitors, so you can make your boss aware of the key issues and develop action plans.
This does not mean you have to act like the ‘office spy’, as people will get to realize what you are up to and distrust you. You should respect confidentiality at all times, but if there is something that will affect your boss or your organisation then you should remember where your loyalties lie and use the information discreetly and appropriately.
Sometimes ‘gossip’ can be useful when used in the right context and for the right reasons. It can help determine who is trustworthy, who should be avoided, and who may be able to help us accomplish our goals. Gossip can also help determine which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
The key is to know when gossip is getting out of hand and when something needs to be done about it. This might be when it is:
hurting people’s feelings;
disrupting the flow of work;
damaging interpersonal relationships;
demotivating employees or damaging morale.
You can exceed your boss’s expectations and offer solutions to stop the more serious type of gossiping, for example by suggesting that more communication meetings should be held, or communication should be disseminated via e-mails or voice messages to dispel any harmful rumors. It may be appropriate for your boss to speak to the culprit(s) involved to find out exactly what is happening. The person(s) involved may require coaching to change their behavior, and in extreme circumstances it may be necessary to consider using the disciplinary procedure. Or maybe your boss needs to be more approachable, with an open-door policy so that people feel that they can talk to him or her.
If gossip is managed appropriately it need not be a problem, and there will always be the grapevine type of gossiping that can be useful in certain circumstances. So if and when ‘gossiping’ does occur, be sure that you keep it professional and are sharing helpful, accurate information and not spreading harmful rumors.
If you want to shine in your role, take a look at the training courses we offer at Bingo Traders. Designed specifically for EAs, PAs, Admins, Office Managers,… , these learning opportunities provide the skills and knowledge you’ll need to excel.
Sue France / Photo on Unsplash