Water Cooler Chit-Chat and Gossip in the Workplace

So it’s Monday morning, and the water cooler is a-buzz with who had drinks with who on Saturday, the shot at the buzzer in last night’s basketball game, and any number of weekend happenings.  Gossip and chatter in the workplace is oftentimes simply a byproduct of any circumstance where a congregation of people meet every day; conversations, friendships, and even rivalries are bound to develop.  However, if sometimes you feel like your office is more like the halls of high school than Corporate America, the chatter may be going too far.

Don’t get us wrong; it is good to have friendships in the office.  Comaraderie in the workplace can raise morale; it can be a lot easier to spend 40+ hours of your week with someone you can talk to and jest with than sitting in silence with no human interaction.  So how can you tell if the chit-chat has turned from innocent to toxic?

Office gossip has gone too far when:

-It affects your ability to complete projects on time.  If you spend more time at the water cooler or ducking into the supply closet to divulge juicy gossip than sitting in your cubicle, it’s probably a bad sign.  It is fine to catch up with your colleagues but make sure it does not hinder your deadlines.  If you have a due date coming up, consider letting your work friends know you’ll need some peace and quiet.

-The conversation involves inappropriate conversations that could hurt your or others’ jobs and reputations.  Harmless updates on how the movie was last night are fine; however, you shouldn’t be leaning over your cubicle to discuss things that will make the receptionist blush and the boss fire you.

-It alienates or targets an individual.  Work is not the place to be a bully or a “Mean Girl.”  Whereas hashing out work-related issues to the correct people can be productive, simply bashing coworkers is never constructive.  It can breed animosity and cause rifts between groups in the office.  And if you pick on someone enough, it may even be grounds for harassment claims.

-It involves work matters that the listener has no control over.  Often times we may feel tempted to vent to the nearest coworker about an issue we are experiencing with another employee, department, etc.  However, if the person isn’t directly involved, it is just useless gossip, and hinders actual constructive communication that could be held with more appropriate parties to actually resolve the situation.

So what are your rules of thumb for curbing office gossip and keeping the chatter under control?

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