Secret Spilling Co-workers: How to make the gossip stop

Q: A colleague comes into my office to confidentially discuss his job duties and ask for advice on handling a personnel situation. Before I realize it he gives me a ‘juicy bit of gossip’ on our mutual supervisor. I realize that this is explosive information and I would not repeat the same for it may not be true or may not be reliable. I don’t want to embarrass him, shut down the lines of communication, or lose his trust. However, I don’t want to be the repository of gossip that could compromise or danger my position. Any ideas?

A: The best way to handle this is to tell your colleague, “I don’t want to hear the details of anyone’s private life,” and politely refuse to listen – “That sounds interesting, but frankly, I’d just rather not know.” I would be frank with this person and tell him that you are happy to listen to when he has a question about his job duties or a personnel situation, but that you do not want to hear gossip or rumors that could be damaging to someone’s career or to your company.


  1. Joanna

    Unfortunately, that’s one of those “easier said than done” kinds of things…I’ve been in that position before and wanted the same, but you get the distinct impression that if you do, you’ll be dubbed the office tattletale/goody-two-shoes/etc. Sometimes you have to tread a very thin line when it comes to getting along with co-workers, simply because that IS important in doing your job well and keeping it, just as much as actually doing the work well.

  2. Vanna Keiler

    Joanna, I must respectfully disagree. Gossip and innuendo have no place in a business setting, no matter who wants to initiate it or keep it floating around. I like the EPI response, but suggest not responding at all, looking away, and making a point of going back to the topic at hand.

    If colleague legitimately needs help and consultation advice, he/she is using up YOUR work time in doing so, and you may want to move the conversation along, probably so you don’t get into trouble yourself from deviating from your work tasks. How about a simple: “I have to be getting back to work pretty soon. Can we stay on topic or have I helped you with what you needed advice with?”. If Colleague doesn’t get (or accept) the hint, start moving around the office and resume working. Physically moving around may unconsciously illicit the colleague to stand up themselves, or move back and hopefully, away from your office/desk/space.

    • Joanna

      Oh, I totally agree with your explanation, and really do wish it could always be so. But in my experience, it really is hard to toe that line of not participating versus actually speaking out against it, because you can make problems for yourself. Is that right? Of course not. But again, in my experience — and I’m only in my early thirties — it usually doesn’t work out that way. (Oddly enough, I’ve found myself in numerous places, having to ward off gossip and inappropriateness from colleagues old enough to be my parents, which makes it doubly difficult IMO.)

  3. Roz

    I don’t telling people that I’m not interesting in hearing gossip about others. If you tell them enough times they will know not to come your way with it. That person cannot be trusted and you shouldn’t want to be a part of that characteristic. You ma feel left out at times but that’s fine at least you will be looked up to as a person of integrity by the people who matters.

  4. Roz

    I was interrupted and hit submit accidentally without proofreading.

    The first sentenace was incorrect in my previous response. It should say…

    I don’t mind telling people of my disintest in hearing gossip about others.

  5. Paul

    Human behaviour tends to be consistent.

    Hence, somebody who gossips about other people to you, possibly also gossips about you to other people.

    Hence, you may want to check with other people what is being said. This may make a stronger reaction appropriate.

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