I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a while, because I think this is something worth addressing.
We all have gossip in the workplace at some extent. Maybe it’s positive in that it can create natural bonds between people who don’t have much in common. Ever heard of the saying “My enemy’s enemy is my friend?” I think Sun Tzu said that, but I may be wrong. It is common for people to bond over shared hatred of something…or someone.
Then there’s the toxic gossip. The gossip that creates a negative environment and fuels anxiety and paranoia. When I worked at the insurance company, I felt like I was swimming in a gossip cesspool–the most toxic bullshit. This kind of gossip kills employee morale. People begin dreading to come to work–erm…more than usual.
Enter the Gossip. A Gossip could be a man or a woman. Men gossip as much as women do, they just don’t have the stereotype haunting them while they do it. I’m going to refer to the Gossip in the feminine, because I’ve worked with one who was (and still is, I guess) a woman.
She’s a mother hen of sorts. She tries to befriend everyone, in the hope of being trusted with valuable information. She wants to be the Go-To for everything. I’m sure you’ve met her.
Working at a cubicle farm where nobody knows your name–or cares–is soul-sucking. Realizing at 23, that you’re not where you thought you’d be is soul-sucking too. Thrown in an overgrown “mean girl” and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I thought high school was over, but I was wrong.
She judged everyone for everything. And she was very vocal about it. If she had an online dating profile, I imagine she would have “poking holes in everyone’s character over nothing”, “making mountains out of molehills”, and “terrorizing junior staff” under Hobbies and interests. She had something terrible to say about everyone. Then, she would turn around and pretend to be their best friend.
I didn’t trust her with anything, but she still made me paranoid. I was so worried about what she might be saying about me behind my back. Anything from my lunch to my shoes, to the way I worded an e-mail was free game. I became so anxious that my heart sank into the pit of my stomach whenever I heard her voice. It took me a while to realize that she would judge me no matter what I said or did. Having no control over something like this is discouraging. It was also kind of relieving, because it wasn’t my fault. There was nothing wrong with me–it was her problem and not mine.
It was still really demoralizing. I didn’t like my coworkers much, but I didn’t care to hear about them and everything (according to her) wrong with them. I thought she did it because she was a narcissistic horse’s ass who thought she was better than everyone.
She actually did it because she was insecure and needed validation for her own behaviour. Yes, I started psychoanalyzing her. By openly criticizing everyone else, she felt better about herself. By putting somebody down behind their back, when they couldn’t defend themselves, she made herself look better in someone else’s eyes (whoever she was complaining to).
She would rag on her husband and teenage daughter so much. She aired all of their dirty laundry to everyone who cared (and I guess, didn’t in my case) to listen. I was so mortified for both of them. Thankfully, I’ll probably never meet them. My mom used to tell everyone everything (small town mentality) which made growing up difficult. It’s hard to go through the motions with everyone’s eyes on you. That’s why I’m so secretive about my life in the city.
Yeah so back to the Gossip. I never fuelled her gossip. I kept my mouth shut. This made her think that I was a good listener, so she filled my ears with more garbage. Then one day I realized that I wasn’t discouraging her. I was actually doing the opposite because she needed to fill in that silence–the void caused by my unresponsiveness. So I stopped listening and started ignoring her. I stared at my computer screen in complete silence until she left my doorway.
Do you know how awkward that was? Humans have a tendency to waffle and blabber on about meaningless things just to avoid silence with strangers. Silence is uncomfortable! So is unresponsiveness. I gave her both of these things to get rid of her. And it worked.
Gossip stops when no one is listening.