Surprising Insights About Gossip in the Workplace and How to Stop It

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We’ve all experienced gossip in the workplace in one way or another, so what can we do to stop it?

Well, more than you might think.

Say you’re at a meeting, sitting in the back of the room because you got there late.  One of the other managers, Maggie, is going on and on about what everyone needs to do to improve their quality metrics. After another few minutes, the person sitting next to you says, “I’ve never understood why they gave Maggie the chair of this committee. (pause) Did you hear that she and her husband don’t even sleep in the same bedroom? I heard he is having an affair. Might explain why she looks so unkempt lately. Seriously, sometimes I wonder if she even brushes her hair before she comes into work.”

You’ve just been exposed to GOSSIP!

Raise your hand if you’ve never gossiped about anybody in your life. Thank you for not lying! You gossip; I gossip; we all gossip. It’s a human thing. However, it’s not okay. Gossip in your workplace is a virus that infects and destroys everything, especially a healthy workforce.


Gossip is a form of attack, of hurting someone’s character or personal attributes.  Gossip betrays trust, confidence, and tears down relationships. Gossip can be considered a covert form of bullying, IF there is a target, the behavior is harmful, and is repeated over time.

Other ways gossip shows up:

  • Spreading rumors
  • Hurtful judgments
  • Sharing confidential information
  • Tattletailing

The key with gossip is that the comments are hurtful in some way to the person. And typically, whoever is gossiping would never say those comments directly TO the person. Gossip is a common passive-aggressive way of communicating.


Good question. A lot of theories exist as to why people spend their time and energy talking smack about other people. Some people talk so much about others that gossiping has become a habit and they don’t even realize they are gossiping. But a few of the most common reasons are:

  • To feel superior – think about it. When you say negative things about others, by contrast you are saying you are better.
  • To feel like a part of the group – sometimes you’re not the one to initiate gossip but when the cool clique is talking smack about others, if you join in, you become cool too.
  • To get attention – you can’t gossip if you don’t have an audience and if you have an audience, someone is paying attention to you.


In the break room, locker room, cafeteria, elevator, hallway, nurses’ station, and in the patient’s room!!! I was doing consulting at a hospital recently and was standing in line at the coffee cart. Two employees from the hospital were in front of me talking about the person who does their schedule and how she gives the best schedules to the nurses she likes while the rest of them get “the leftovers”. Then they actually criticized her makeup and how someone should bring her “into the 21st century”. There were visitors in line too whom I’m sure heard their conversation!

Gossip is happening often in patient care areas. I don’t know what makes us think that patents and their families can’t hear what we say at the nurses’ station or in the hallway – they hear EVERYTHING! I once had a physician tell me that they were doing rounds IN the patient’s room and could hear 2 employees gossiping about one of the new nurses. Not okay.


  • Wasted time
  • Loss of trust, hurt feelings, and ruined reputations
  • Decreased morale
  • Higher turnover as good employees leave due to the unhealthy work environment

When gossip becomes a normal part of the culture, good nurses leave – or worse – become disengaged.

According to Kurkland and Pelled, workplace gossip can be very serious depending upon the amount of power that the gossiper has over the recipient, which will in turn affect how the gossip is interpreted.  Effects depend on how much power the gossiper has over the recipient

Based on their research, there are 4 types of power that are influenced by gossip:

  • Coercive: When a gossiper shares negative information about a person (harmful gossip), their recipient might believe that the gossiper will also spread negative information about them too. This gives the gossiper power over the recipients.
  • Reward: When a gossiper tells positive information about a person (helpful gossip), their recipient might believe that the gossiper will also spread positive information about them. This could influence someone to want to strengthen the relationship with the gossiper, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the intent is pure and good.
  • Expert: When a gossiper seems to have very detailed knowledge of the organization or a person in the work environment, their expert power becomes enhanced. Everyone else thinks that they have “insider information”, therefore, has more power than others.
  • Referent: When people view gossiping as a petty activity done to waste time, a gossiper’s power can decrease along with their reputation. However, when a recipient is thought of as being included into a social circle by being a recipient, the gossiper’s power can increase.

So it seems like gossiping can increase someone’s perceived power both internally and externally. And we all know what happens when someone perceives himself or herself as having power! Perceived power can lead to bullying behavior.


Now, there is a difference between gossip and venting. How do you know the difference?

I once worked with an educator who would frustrate me (and everyone else). Every time we were asked to take on another project, she’d say, “Well, someone else is going to have to do it because there’s only one Sandy (referring to herself). Well, there must be 57 “Renee’s” because I always somehow found the “time” to get it done! On really rough days, I would walk into another colleague’s office; shut the door and vent, vent, vent about Sandy. However, I knew that when I was done, my colleague would say, “Now. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to have a conversation with Sandy or just let it go?” And then of course she would help me figure out WHAT to say and HOW to say it.

This is venting.

Venting is a way of letting off steam whenever someone or something is frustrating you. People who vent, usually focus on someone’s behavior – not their personal traits. Like I did when talking about Sandy. I was frustrated that she always said she was too busy to help out. It was Sandy’s behavior that frustrated me.

If I was gossiping, I would have attacked her character or personal characteristics (commented on her looks, weight, the way she dresses, etc. or may have called her lazy).

So, the next time you are complaining about someone, ask yourself the question: Are you venting or are you gossiping?


Catch YOURSELF gossiping

Check your intent – Ask yourself, why am I talking about this person in this way? Am I feeling insecure and trying to make myself feel better?  Am I uncomfortable with silence and using gossip as filler?  Or am I trying to fit in with the crowd? And then stop yourself.

Catch OTHERS gossiping

Check their intent – Not that you have to be a psychiatrist but think about the meaning behind someone’s gossip. I have a friend who tends to gossip about others. I KNOW it’s because she’s not happy with her life and tries (unintentionally) to find fault in others to make herself feel better.

I have also participated in gossip to fit in; to be a part of the social club. Ugh. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of social pressures.

Many times when we overhear gossip and when someone’s actually gossiping to us, we either ignore it or contribute to it by joining in. In this video, I share a few simple strategies to STOP THE GOSSIP when you witness gossiping.

The key here is NOT to just ignore gossip.

Use scripting techniques

As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of scripting. Here are some of my favorite scripts you can use to respond to gossip:

“I’m uncomfortable hearing you badmouth her when she isn’t even in the room.”

“Wow. You seem really upset. Have you had a conversation with him about this?”

“I’ve noticed that you talk about Susan a lot in a negative way. Is there a reason for this?”

“I’m more interested in what you’re up to than talking about Kevin.”

“Let’s talk about something more positive.”

“I share your concerns about ____ but telling me isn’t going to make it better.  I think you need to tell ____.”

“Oh my. That’s terrible. Poor thing! What can we do to help her?” This is a great script to use when someone is sharing unfortunate news about someone, like in Maggie’s situation with her husband. The recipient of gossip could have stopped her colleague from attacking Maggie’s personal characteristics by showing empathy for her situation.

The key here again is NOT to ignore and NOT to join into any conversation involving malicious gossip.

Just remember, if someone is talking smack about someone else TO you, chances are, they are talking smack ABOUT you too.

Gossip acts as a virus that spreads through an organization destroying a healthy workforce. It’s up to each one of us to do our part to stop it.

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

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4 thoughts on “Surprising Insights About Gossip in the Workplace and How to Stop It”

  1. So thankful for this post! I had to share! I’ve been really trying to show people the difference between gossip and venting at work. As a NICU nurse I work with alllll women. We really need to work on this in my unit. Thank you so much!

    1. Thanks Stephanie! Gossip can be so destructive in a department. The problem is, people get so used to it that they don’t even recognize it. Glad you’re doing your part to do something about it!!!

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