Q. I am not a manager but an administrator. Two colleagues email each other about me. I only know this because I proxy email as the office administrator. I also know they whisper to each other about me and meet in the kitchen to discuss me. I am not paranoid but how do I handle this?
Today they whispered to each other and went to the kitchen so I went in too, smiled and chatted to them and put them off their stride.
Do I turn a blind eye?
E. E., Beckenham, Kent, UK
A. Gossip is an insidious problem. Among its many detriments it causes stress, breeds distrust, and is non-productive work time. Even the appearance of gossip?in this case whispering coworkers?is just as insidious. From your perspective, gossip is occurring even if it really isn?t. Every time you see your coworkers talking, whispering, or getting together, you assume the worst?that they are gossiping about you. While you may have been privy to the email(s) they shared about you, your letter doesn?t state that you have firm evidence that you are the primary topic of their conversations when they get together.
You have several courses of action you could take. As you suggest, you can turn a blind eye to them but doing so may not stop you from thinking they are talking about you. If you can ignore them this could be your solution, but you must have a thick skin when you see them whispering together.
A second option is to talk to one or both of them. You?ll need to have irrefutable proof, similar to the emails you?ve seen, that they?re talking about you. With proof in hand you can ask one of them to meet with you. Start by saying, ?Jane, thanks for meeting with me. I?m hoping we can resolve a problem here without it becoming a bigger issue. I wanted to talk to you about the fact that you and Eileen gossip about me. Did you know I was aware of your conversations and emails?? By asking the question, you put the ball in Jane?s court to acknowledge her role in the gossiping. Bring out the emails as verification if you need them. If Jane agrees to cease the gossiping, then let the issue rest. If it doesn?t end, you may have to take your complaint to your manager.
You also can choose to continue the efforts you described in your letter by co-opting the gossipers? time alone. Also, by encouraging them to get to know you, you may be able to change their opinion of you. Just don?t get caught in the trap of becoming a gossip yourself.