Handling Gossip in the Workplace

One of the theories mentioned by Yuval Harari in his best seller Sapiens is that our language may have evolved as a way of gossiping.

Being a social animal, homo sapiens would have developed the language not only to share the whereabouts of bison or lions but, most importantly, for them to know who is romantically connected with whom, who hates whom, who is honest and who is a cheat. The relationship based on gossip made possible for groups to assemble in larger bands, based on mutual confidence, making it easier to survive in the jungle and overcome enemies.

In fact, people love gossiping. (Not you and me, don’t get me wrong. But other people love it!) And in the same way Harari describes, as a leader, you get a lot of people trying to connect to you by gossiping against each other.

But, how do you deal with that extra amount of information? How do you resist to that innocent little tittle-tattle?

There is no such a thing as innocent gossiping. It can be funny and look harmless, but someone is certainty getting hurt. And that someone is probably from your team, a colleague or your boss. You can lose an effective professional, and eventually, a good friend forever because of that itching temptation for a couple of laughs behind other people’s backs. Maybe even lose your job.

When gossip comes to me, the first thing that comes to my head is that it is never the whole truth. And context can change words to the opposite. Someone giving ideas to improve the workplace can be easily translated to complaints about the current situation. Nobody describes the whole truth from behind, and spicing up the subject makes things much more interesting, doesn’t it?

Remembering gossip is never reality helps me put things in perspective and allows me to disconnect emotionally from what has been said.

The next step is to ask yourself: Does it matter?

Let’s assume someone complained about you. So what? Everybody complains about everyone. I did not have a beer with my team after a tough day because they needed to have a beer themselves, blaming me for everything. It is alright! After a good day, things would be different.


Who has never complained about their bosses? If it doesn’t matter, the best thing to do is to ignore it. Never lose energy with unimportant subjects.

Sometimes, however, the noise can be too loud to be ignored. And by too loud I mean putting someone in danger, for example. Or something that could potentially damage the company’s reputation or customer safety. In these cases, look for data that could support what you have heard. And if you need to confront someone, bring the analysis to the table and focus on that  and never on gossip. Instead of asking “Did you say…?”, why not to ask “What do you think about…?”

It is so much wiser to ask instead of making assumptions.

More important than the message is the messenger. Think about it. Why is someone telling you something about someone else? What does he or she want? What is the hidden agenda? Can I really trust this person?

In my experience, gossip never deserved more than two letters as an answer: “O” and “K.” And after that, get back to what you were doing. Even if, for some people (not me nor you) a little gossip is too hard to resist!

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August 25, 2021 at 2:31 pm
Juan Diego

Very interesting article, it's always hard to avoid a little gossip in the workplace, but it's wise to avoid talking too much about other colleages.

August 25, 2021 at 2:37 pm
Leandro Justem

Como sempre, Paulo muito rico em experiências e com algo relevante a agregar.
Importante notar que juntos tivemos uma longa e significativa experiência profissional. Nas linhas deste texto pude ver exatamente sua conduta refletida.
Um homem íntegro e ético.
Obrigado por tanto meu amigo.
Um abraço saudoso.


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.