Overhearing Someone Talking About You at Work: What to Do
Molly Hitchens studied business for years before launching her career as a journalist and analyst specializing in original and innovative business planning. She shares her expertise through her work with The Idea Trader as well as through in-person speaking engagements at universities around the country.
Overhearing someone talking about you at work presents an awkward situation between workmates. Have you ever bumped into your colleagues chatting and laughing loudly and all of sudden they become silent?
Chances are that either you or one of your closest friends was the subject of discussion. If you are lucky, you might overhear a thing or two about you. So how do you react?
Don’t just assume and pretend as if nothing happened. Office gossip creates mistrust in the team. Eventually, this mistrust results in poor performance. In this article, we will show you how to deal with office gossip positively.
But first, you'll need to understand what fuels office gossip.
What Initiates Office Gossip?
How organized is your communication structure? Are you running your organization using a clear code of conduct for all the employees? If so, is this code of conduct being followed?
Gossip and rumors arise for many reasons. Usually, underworked employees are the most vulnerable. They can start gossiping when they experience a challenge in executing their duties and no one seems to take the blame.
However, if your company has clear guidelines on what is acceptable behavior in the workplace, then employees tend to engage in controlled office talk.
Sometimes overhearing someone talking about you at work is not all that bad. It could be that the person has come across information about you that may harm you. This person may want to know what the other staff members think he should do.
If you’re the boss, try to understand what prompts your employees to start talking about each other in the workplace. Then, engage them in coming up with ways to make the office a more friendly environment.
5 Tips to Employ When Overhearing Someone Talking About You at Work
Evaluate the Source
How well do you know the person gossiping about you? Do you value their opinion? Is there some underlying truth to the gossip? Overhearing someone talking about you at work is not always a critical issue. Therefore, do not be too quick to respond.
Some people find gossip helpful as a part of interacting with others and getting to know their colleagues better. Others would talk negatively about you as a way of making themselves sound relevant and fit in the crowd.
You wouldn’t want to overreact to the water cooler discussions during a tea break, would you?
When dealing with such people, try as much as possible to parse what you hear. Weigh the matter and conclude if it requires your immediate attention.
However, if you hear damaging comments about you, you need to address the matter. Such discussions can easily affect how other employees perceive you, even if you trust the judgment of the person talking about you.
To stop any negative perception going around about you, call the person aside and discuss what you just heard. Try to find out from him/her why they were talking about you that way. Be firm yet polite with the person.
This non-confrontational approach ensures you are objective in addressing the issue and not attacking the person. This is where you need to learn to pick your battles wisely.
Hear the Person Out
It is rare to find a supervisor talking about his subordinates to other staff. Unfortunately, the subordinate staff tends to gossip about their superiors or fellow workers. One reason for this is unclear channels to highlight a problem within the company.
As you talk with the gossip instigator, give him/her a chance to save face. Find out why the person is talking about you in your absence. Is it because he needs clarification but is too afraid to ask you directly?
You can use humor to make the person comfortable in explaining himself/herself. Let the employee know that you only want to get to the bottom of the matter. You do not intend to use the information against the employee.
For a new employee, inform the person about the existing communication channels for the company. As a supervisor, remind the rest of the staff of the formal ways available when one has a dispute or a differing opinion on how to carry out tasks.
Time is of the Essence
As you deal with the issue, take the least amount of time possible. Once you have talked to the person, rest your case. You don’t want to end up starting another piece of gossip about the other person, too. Instead, encourage your colleague to set the record straight with the rest of your workmates.
Maintain open communication with all staff. Sometimes, employees are afraid to talk to a superior about an issue they are facing. In turn, they resort to talking to other colleagues in secret. When they do this, information gets distorted.
Avoid Feeding the Rumor Mill
Keep away from situations or activities that can compromise your professional credibility. Follow the laid down guidelines when executing your duties at all times. Keep your personal affairs private. Similarly, remember to keep your company’s secrets secret.
By the time you are overhearing someone talking about you at work, it's possible that this has been going on for a while. Encourage employees to maintain work-related conversations during working hours. Ask your employees to put off gossipers by changing the subject to a work-related topic.
Some employees use unethical means to gain a superior’s approval for a promotion or salary increase. They rely on other people’s weaknesses and mistakes to showcase their abilities. When you keep all your affairs professional, there is little chance of falling prey to such schemes.
Replace Negative Gossip with Positive Gossip
In those instances where it is almost impossible to stop someone from talking about you at work, encourage positive talk instead. Use such opportunities to share employee achievements and breakthroughs, but on a light note. In other words, encourage the kind of habits you want to see in the company.
Office gossip is a bad habit that works against the productivity of a team. Overhearing someone talking about you at work creates a bad reputation for both the instigator and you. First, understand how the gossip started. Address the issue directly with the person who started it.
As you do so, remain calm and objective. Come up with policies that discourage office gossip. Let the staff know that if they are not comfortable discussing an issue in your presence, it is better to avoid it altogether. You'll need to maintain a gossip-free workplace for better productivity.
If you're looking to improve the office even further, check out this article with tips on how to improve efficiency in the workplace.