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How to Cope With Gossiping Coworkers

Some people are lucky enough to be friends with their coworkers. Others might opt for a work-only relationship, but still get along well with the folks they share an office with.

But not everyone is that fortunate. Some folks have no choice but to work alongside toxic colleagues who make office life unpleasant, if not downright miserable. Of course, toxic coworkers come in a variety of forms, but those who gossip constantly are among the worst. Not only can that gossip prove distracting, but if you’re the victim of it, the rumors your coworkers produce could be damaging enough to hurt or ruin your relationship with the rest of your peers. Here’s how to deal with a group of colleagues who just can’t seem to keep their big mouths shut.

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1. Make every effort possible not to participate

When you’re in a conference room waiting for a meeting to begin and your colleagues are talking unfavorably about someone else, it’s hardly feasible for you to not overhear that conversation (unless, of course, you were to curl up in a ball in the corner, jam your fingers into your ears, and start repeating a “not listening” mantra for all to observe). But there are different ways you can avoid getting sucked into a gossip-ridden conversation.

For one thing, know who the office gossipers are, and stay away from them unless you need to collaborate on a work matter. If you see those folks gathering at the water cooler or stepping into the break room together, turn and go the other way. The more you steer clear of those resident gossipers, the less likely you’ll be to get stuck in a conversation you’re uncomfortable with.

2. Counteract negative rumors with positivity

Sometimes, you have no choice but to be privy to office gossip. If that’s the case, you can use your position to try to minimize the damage to the person being gossiped about. For example, if others are starting rumors that a colleague is planning to jump ship because his work hasn’t been up to par, you might say something like, “I think Bob’s had a lot on his plate lately. That’s probably why he botched that presentation.” That way, if news of that conversation gets back to Bob, you’ll come off as the person who defended him. And even if that doesn’t happen, remember that if you were Bob, you’d probably want a colleague to defend you.

3. Change the topic

Sometimes, curbing the extent to which you’re involved in gossip boils down to strategically changing the subject. When you find yourself pulled into a conversation about a coworker, you might try something like, “Well anyway, enough about Mary and her ever-changing hair color. Did you catch the big game yesterday?” If you introduce a more compelling topic than the one at hand, you might minimize the gossip being spewed — at least for the time being.

4. Avoid sharing personal information at the office

In an ideal world, you’d be able to talk freely at work without worrying about repercussions. But if you know you have a bunch of gossipers to contend with, make a point of not sharing too much about your personal life at the office. If your in-laws are driving you nuts, save your complaints for nonwork friends. If you’re stressed about your child‘s lackluster academic performance, talk to your spouse or fellow parents you’re friendly with through your child‘s school. The less you share about yourself at the office, the less there will be to talk about — and the less likely you’ll be to get gossiped about.

Gossiping coworkers aren’t easy to deal with. If your office is full of them, the best you can do is stay away as much as you can and avoid stooping to their level.