Interpersonal
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Workplace Gossip, What’s an Engineer to Do?

Gossip, scuttlebutt, water-cooler talk, chit-chat. Call it what you will, but let’s talk about what you talk about at work.

People gossip, and the more time you spend with your teammates away from the office, the more gossip you will hear.

Dealing Workplace Gossip for Engineers

Workplace Gossip

As the Oxford Dictionary defines gossip as the “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

Now, defining the word is nice and all, but let’s dive into some specific areas where we can apply it to our engineer careers.

Sets a Precedent

One of the unforeseen side effects of partaking in gossip is that it sets a precedent in your coworker’s mind. If they know they can talk to you about the ridiculous thing they just heard, they may come back to you to share even more.

This could quickly spiral out of control and next thing you know you are playing therapist (but without the paycheck). When ‘shit gets real’ you have become the one person they go and unload. Not only does this interrupt your own work progress, but over time, it wears you down.

Erodes Trust

Gossip also erodes the trust that your coworkers have in you. Ironically, even if they are the one sharing the little secret with you. You have become a conspirator, and those can’t be up to any good.

If you are the one sharing rumors, and they see that you can’t keep secrets and speculations to yourself, how could they trust you with actual, important things?

Creates Embitterment

Now, what happens if the person or team you are gossiping about hears of it? Offices are only so big and the guy sitting quietly in the corner might actually be good friends with the person of interest.

You’ve now made yourself an enemy, or, at least, created a very difficult situation to climb yourself out of. With the work environment being competitive enough, why make it even harder for yourself?

My Basic Rules on Gossip

Can we now agree that workplace gossip sucks? It has huge potential to cause harm to your potential career, saying nothing of the harm it may be causing to others around you.

With that said, I’ve put together some basic rules I try to follow for myself. Not that I’m in anyway perfect on this subject, but I find that by writing these rules down it helps solidify them so I can remember to follow my own advice.

My first rule on gossip: don’t.

Stupid simple perhaps, but important to try to follow through.

Talking about others in any negative light will only hurt your credibility and may break any trust some may have with you because if you gossip about Tim, who says you wouldn’t gossip about Carroll.

So when the welling desire to share something juicy boils within you, remind yourself of the cost. Is the information you are about to share beneficial to you and your career? Will it help a teammate with theirs?

Second rule on gossip: filter.

Deciding not to spread rumors and gossip yourself is hard enough, but how do you stop everyone else? The short answer is you can’t.

But you can actively ignore and avoid all the negative conversations about people. Don’t listen, don’t contribute, and don’t act on it. People have many reasons why they talk about each other. Sometimes it’s a credible, real issues the person has. Many other times the gossiper just wants to knock the person down the political ladder to promote their own agenda.

Either way, listening to gossip about others only damages your perspective of the target before you may have had a chance to know them yourself.

Third rule on gossip: salt.

Overhear that project Grassy Oak Field is getting additional funding and priority? This could be critical if you have been wanting to work on the project but no positions have been open.

If funding and priority are rising, now may be the chance to reach out to the project lead and have them request your transfer. On the other hand, if you are hearing that layoffs are coming and the business is doomed, welcome to the cynical world of engineering.

These may seem like actual benefits of listening to gossip, but if you followed every lead and feared every layoff you could quickly get burned out. By adding a bit of salt to these rumors, you can start to feel out what may be coming down the road – and prepare for it – and what is complete nonsense.

Your Takeaway

So the final word on workplace gossip is to leave it to the TV shows, and remember the wise saying: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

If you have some of your own gossip rules, share them below so we can all benefit from the learnings.

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  • Pattern-chaser

    Some gossip is malicious, and some is positively beneficial, helping to build and cement relationships. Avoid the former like the plague, as you advise, and pursue the latter. 🙂

    • Perhaps it comes down to semantics, as I feel the word gossip is more of the negative side of conversations, as you say to avoid. And I agree there are many positive benefits of conversing with your coworkers.
      Do you have an example of the beneficial gossip? Or am I just getting hung up on the word?

      • Pattern-chaser

        Yes, I think you’re right. Maybe “chat” is a better word to refer to beneficial interaction? 😉

        • Having a good chat is a great way to interact with your coworkers 🙂