• Other Friendship Advice

Too friendly, too soon with the office gossip

January 4, 2015 | By | 15 Replies Continue Reading
A woman discovers she’s become too friendly with the office gossip.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I work with a small group of five people, and we all share the same office. When I joined the group, I became friendly with one of the women but I have since realized I jumped in too soon with her.

She is a gossip, very inquisitive and not too bright, as well as being two-faced. She will complain about one person endlessly; then I will happen upon her chatting up that person as if they are best buds. She has done this with numerous people, one of whom she said it was along the lines of keeping enemies closer than friends.

I wonder what she is saying about me when I’m not in the room. I have attempted to cool my interaction with her because I don’t want to participate in the gossip. I always say hello, goodbye, and am willing to help with work issues. However, she is insistent about asking me what she did “wrong.”

She’s sent me a couple emails lamenting this, which I find tedious. I have enough drama in my life away from work. I have said I am busy with my work but she seems unable to get the message.

Any advice?

Signed, Elizabeth

ANSWER

Hi Elizabeth,

Your letter demonstrates one of the perils of office friendships. You and the office gossip work together so even if you want to end the friendship, you still need to maintain a business relationship and see her every day.

Don’t blame yourself for misjudging; sometimes, it takes time to see a person’s warts even under a microscope. After figuring out that you want distance from her, you have done everything right. You’ve continued to act cordially, been helpful to her on work issues, haven’t bad-mouthed her to colleagues, and have set up boundaries.

I don’t think there is any reason to offer her any further explanation for your actions. Doing so could turn out to make you the butt of her gossip; moreover, it’s unlikely that you can change her personality or her behavior.

This is an unfortunate situation but all you can do is continue to be clear, consistent and firm. Tell her that your decision has to do with you rather than with her, that you want to focus on your work, and that you don’t want to continue speaking about your reasons for stepping back.

Hope this is helpful.

Best, Irene

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Category: Workplace friendships

Comments (15)

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  1. Lauren says:

    Elizabeth,
    I just wanted to add to be careful at work around this co-worKer who gossips, as management may well be documenting her with a view to terminating her employment because of her gossip and her negative influence on the other staff. So watch that you don’t get caught up in that net with her. This is your livelihood, so guard it carefully. Totally minimize your time with her.

    I like this quote:
    “Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” Miguel Angel Ruiz

    All the best in this situation.

  2. Elle says:

    Gossip is a passive-agressive behavior with nothing constructive coming from it. As soon as I discover someone is two-faced or a gossip they are immediately removed from my work world in a very specific way. (Say you like so and so – and they know you don’t go for the gossip BS.) I am pretty intuitive and pick up on all the verbal clues that reveal whether or not someone is a gossip the first time I meet them. I have better things to do than speak poorly of other people…negativity perpetuates negativity. Gossiping says more about the people doing it than the people they are discussing. If people focused on their own behaviors and lives rather than blah-blahing about someone else’s, they would be much happier in the long run.

  3. tanja says:

    I think it is human nature to talk behind people’s back, employers do it all the time. Everyone judges, but not all people hold those judgements against you. I mean, they like you in spite of faults they may say in you. I would relax a bit more. Some of my best friendships were the ones where we talk about each other to an extent. I mean you wrote this email calling her a gossip “behind her back”. So, in my experience, those that I thought were not “deep” turned out to be wonderful people to talk to and were very very smart.

    I mean if you really don’t like her regardless of the gossiping, just something in her personality that you find a turn off, other than the one thing you mentioned, I would just limit conversations with her. But, if you like her other than that, just take it lightly and be friendly and see what happens. Open mind and open heart.

    • GraceW says:

      I always find your responses very kind and thoughtful. I agree that most people talk about their friends to some degree, but to me there is a definite difference between occasionally sharing information or an opinion about another person – like Beth asks how mutual friend Lisa is doing and I say fine – and toxic gossip. I often think about:

      * Is the information private, something the subject wouldn’t want shared?

      * Does the person sharing the information (or opinion or complaint) only ever have negative things to say about other people? No matter who it is, no matter what?

      * Does the person sharing the information insist I agree with her, take sides, or put down the person who is the subject?

      * Does the information have the potential to impact my personal relationship with the subject?

      * Does the gossip make me uncomfortable?

      * Would the person sharing information (or opinion or complaint) be embarrassed if what she said about the subject got back to the subject?

      I do talk about friends but only occasionally and most of the time, it is to sing their praises. I choose to focus on the positive when I can. I tend not to keep people who gossip as friends over the long term.

  4. Lauren says:

    This gossip must be very hard to deal with especially in such a small office of only 5 people. I’d say that the next time she approaches you with some gossip about a staff member, just say something like, “Oh, I hate to talk about my work-mates, as it makes me feel nervous and uneasy. It may get back to her/him and then no good will come of that. Let’s change the subject” And be cool when you say this and smile. This let’s you get you opinion over in a fairly easy way, and then she will know that you are not into gossip. Or if she persists, just say, “I have to go to the washroom/have to get back to work/have to make a call.”

    I have been the subject of gossip, and I guess that many, many people have also been hurt by it, so I try to avoid it like the plague.

    Try to minimize contact with her, and when she does go into “gossip mode”, then you can use the above-noted “I’m not into gossip” type of speech. she will get the message, and leave you alone in terms of being a recipient of gossip. Just use the above noted formula, and lather rinse , repeat…lather , rinse repeat…she will get the message. Be strong and persistent, and she will get the message. Don’t forget to smile and stay cool and easy going, and you will get out of this very nicely. Good luck.

    • Anna says:

      Thank you for your advice, although the lather-rinse-repeat doesn’t seem to sink in with her. She’s crying in people’s offices that she can’t bear to be without my friendship. One of these people told me she is doing this. I just don’t have time to have her sit in my guest chair for a couple hours every morning while she yaps at me, and then repeats anything I might have shared to anyone who will listen. I’m starting to think she has mental health issues, as it’s not normal behavior. Frankly she seems to feel she’s at the center of the universe, that everything I say or don’t say focuses on her. I have my own concerns, none of which have to do with her. But now I just think she’s sad and pathetic. She’s always been high strung, and one of the reasons I’m trying to distance myself from her is I’m tired of talking her down from the ledge all the time, about silly things that she gets worked up over.

  5. Laura says:

    I spent 6 years working closely with someone like this at my last job. It is challenging! The thing is, she wasn’t all bad. There were parts of her I really liked and we stay in touch. She has a good heart despite being a gossip.

    If you can manage to stay cordial with her, she can be a great source of unoffical information;)

  6. JAM says:

    I think I’d personally try to be pleasant about handling it, esp. if I had to work with her every day. Because she seems “two faced,” getting on her bad side will just make you a target. Distancing yourself is good, and keeping it professional. You can still do that and also show some friendliness by talking about weather, news, sports, fashion, favorite activities, etc. without getting into gossip about people at work. That way, you are showing you care about her as a person – she must have some decent qualities if you were attracted to a friendship with her at first – and you will connect with her in appropriate ways. You keep up your boundaries up and avoid personal entanglements. If she pursues you to talk about people, keep talking about movies, current events, etc. and continue to avoid personal conversation. Hopefully with time she’ll give up. She’s probably an insecure person whose been burned, trying to find something to hold onto. You don’t have to be her crutch, but you can be more than coldly professional, by taking a mature, warm, middle road. Best wishes to you!!

  7. Amy F says:

    I’d say, face to face, not through an email, “I notice when we talk, we spend a lot of time discussing negative things. I realized afterwards I take than negativity with me, so I probably have been a bit withdrawn.”
    I’d want to be sure to take my responsibility of the communication issue and take my responsibility for the part I played in the interaction, instead of blaming her and insinuating that she caused me to behave in a way in which I’m not proud.

    Then I’d spend some time thinking about what drew me to, “a gossip, very inquisitive and not too bright, as well as being two-faced.” so that I’d be able to avoid similar issues because, at least from your letter. I’d try to do so in a way that wasn’t pathologizing her personality, since I can’t change that. Instead I’d look at how I could be more emotional forward going forward.

  8. Lily says:

    Hi Elizabeth, what a shame that this should happen in the office, but it’s true, it happens everywhere. Being civil to her and everyone else is the best way to do this. The only way she’ll get the message is if she sees you alone, and begins to gossip about someone in the office. Then you ought to stop her in her tracks by telling her you’re not interested, but look her directly in the eyes and be firm when you say it. She’ll get the message clearly, but do expect that she’ll begin to dislike you. If you treat her like a colleague during work time, but also being kind to her, she’ll see that you’re serious, kind and fair, and not some two-timing back stabber. It’s worked for me, and the end result is people have a deeper respect for you. I hope this may help you.

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