Don’t Play Switchboard
It seems every office has the resident gossiper who flitters from cubicle to cubicle spreading tidbits of information.
What do you do?
A wise friend gave me a piece of advice which spared me from a lot of potential trouble: Don’t play switchboard.
Resist the lure of false intimacy. We know it’s wrong. But why does gossip feel so goooood? Because it creates the illusion that we belong to an inner, privileged circle. Gossipers approach you with a pretext of, “I know I shouldn’t be telling you this, but since you’re my friend…”
If we are not getting any juicy morsels from the grapevine, then we feel like outsiders. We are simply not “in.” Hence, rather than coping with an awkward feeling of rejection, we are likely to open our ears to the switchboard.
It works both ways. We want to please other people, so we release rumors of our own. The sad part is that if we succumb to this temptation, we have sacrificed our integrity on the altar of fickle popularity. Worse, we will be branded as someone who can’t keep a secret. Our bosses will think twice before entrusting us with sensitive information.
The best antidote is to be secure in yourself such that if you want friendships, it has to be based on integrity and on mutual trust. If they won’t like you because you clam up on office secrets, well, that’s their problem.
Direct the gossiper to the person he is talking about. Suppose someone comes to you and begins to gripe or whine about somebody else (usually the boss). Rather than gasp, “Really? He did that?” and spread the tale around with embellishments of your own, nip it in the bud.
When you smell a gossip brewing, don’t let the tattler drone on before you suggest, “That sounds serious. Why don’t you bring the matter directly to that person?” If the gossiper is not comfortable with the idea, offer to accompany him to see the source of his problems. (Warning: Be sure he is not manipulating you to fight his battles for him.) If the gossiper still refuses, then decline to hear more from him.
At the very least, act in self-preservation. Those whom you consider as friends but keep feeding you with gossip are not really your friends at all. What is to prevent them from gossiping to others about you?
Conversely, if you are talking against somebody behind his back, your listener may be thinking “Hmmm… and I wonder what you are saying about me behind my back?” Brought to its logical conclusion, trust is gone, paranoia and cynicism reign, and teamwork goes down the tubes.
Being trusted is one of the prime requisites for career success. But you cannot do that by being a tattle-tale. So take the long view and the high road. Don’t entertain gossip and don’t pass on gossip yourself.
The switchboard stops with you. This week.
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