How to stay out of the office gossip mill

Office gossip can be fun and make you feel included, but there are healthier ways to bond with your coworkers.

How to stay out of the office gossip mill
[Photo: master1305/iStock]

Oh, the seductive allure of office gossip. We all know those people in the office, the ones that always seem to have the “insider knowledge.” They’re the ones we seek out when we want to add some spice to an otherwise boring workday.


It’s hard not to be attracted to office gossip, and Don Rheem, author of Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures knows why. Gossip, Rheem says, feeds into our brain’s natural desire to feel included, connected, and valued.

“There are neurochemical drivers and felt rewards when we are able to connect with others,” says Rheem. “Information is a currency the brain holds in high esteem.” When we’re out of the loop, we tend to feel insecure. Perhaps we even think that we are the source of gossip. Rheem says it’s natural to be drawn into a group where we see congregating, laughing, and talking–if nothing else, to assure ourselves that we aren’t the subject of the chatter.

But while gossip may feed our brain’s need for attention and belonging, it can also be destructive to our emotional state, sucking up a lot of energy and creating a negative work environment. It can also be harmful to our productivity as we waste a lot of time focusing on negativity.

Related: Why office gossip isn’t as bad a habit as you think

But how do you avoid the temptation of the office gossip mill? Here are 7 tips to try:


Look for positive ways to connect with others

The water cooler gossip fuels your desire to be included, but Rheem suggests looking for other ways to bond with people. Try joining a committee or participating in social activities around the office such as volunteer days. These activities satisfy your brain’s desire to connect with others, and also contribute to a more positive workplace culture.

Switch gears

Have a few conversation switchers up your sleeve so you can change course when the conversation starts to turn to gossip. Rather than getting roped in, start a new conversation. A positive conversation switcher may be as simple as, “How was your weekend?”

Leave the conversation

Another way to avoid the office gossip trap is to simply remove yourself from the gossip situation. Saying “Hey, good chatting with you, but I’m on a tight deadline and I’m going to head back to my desk for a while” is a nice way to gracefully bow out of a gossip conversation without calling out the fact that you’re uncomfortable with the gossip.

Surround yourself with a positive crowd

We all know those individuals in the office who seem to be able to sniff out gossip. The ones who are always looking for someone to whisper their “insider knowledge” to. Rather than connecting with these individuals, you can choose to surround yourself with individuals who bring a positive attitude.

Related: How to handle office gossip when it’s about you


Call it as you see it

Often, people who gossip don’t realize they are gossiping. “They see themselves as well-informed, smart, and their opinions so valuable that everyone should listen to them,” says Rheem. Saying, “This is starting to sound like gossip, I’d rather not talk about this” is a way to set healthy boundaries about what kind of engagement you’re willing to participate in and what you aren’t.

Get to the bottom of it

“Did you know Mary’s turned down that promotion?” It can be hard to know if this is gossip or factual. Asking, “How do you know that?” can help you to determine if the conversation is one of gossip or one of fact sharing. Asking questions like this also helps to position you as a person only interested in sharing factual information, not as someone who is interested in having a conversation around speculation and gossip.

Don’t spread the gossip

Once you become aware of the “hot gossip” in the office, it can be hard not to want to share. After all, gossip makes us feel like we’re connected to others. But spreading the gossip not only negatively affects the workplace culture, it can harm your professional reputation and destroy your chances of advancement in the company. Bottom line, don’t repeat what you hear.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction