Helping You Cope With & Stop



Workplace Bullying Gossip: <br>What Can You Do?

Gossip. We’ve all heard about it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all been on the receiving end of it too. No one is immune. Yes, some are addicted to it and use it as a means of connecting with others.

Workplace bullies thrive on using gossip. It takes a true leader to not participate in gossip. Furthermore, it takes a true leader to stop it. So now what?

They say if you really want to know what people think about you, go to the washroom at work and wait to hear what others say! Well, even if you’ve never done that or won’t do that, know that gossip is happening everywhere. The question is, do you have a personal policy with regard to not spreading gossip? Do you have an organizational policy? What can you do if you are on the receiving end? What is gossip anyway?

What is Gossip?

Gossip can be explained as: Rumor or discussion of a personal or sensational tone.

Why Do People Gossip?

Gossip is a way of avoiding responsibility for one’s feelings, and it can be used by someone with a lower self-image as a way to connect with others and feel better about oneself, but at the expense of another.

Gossip acts as an external substitute to filling one’s own needs of connection without having to face anything that is going on inside such as rejection, fear, etc. It’s a lazy form of connection. Perhaps it is hard to truly connect with others when you are disconnected from yourself. This won’t change until you are willing to practice staying mindful with your own feelings and take responsibility for your feelings, rather than avoiding them with gossip. Bullies choose gossip as a tactic many times. Why? It’s so much easier than facing their own lack. People gossip to connect. Is it right to gossip if it becomes at the expense of another?

Why Does a Bully Use Gossip?

Gossip fits well into the bully’s plan. The bully can stretch or bend the truth or make up a lie about a target and not confront the target directly. Remember, gossip is indirect, passive behavior that the target is not usually included in directly. The bully uses gossip, the most powerful form of control in an organization, in order to discredit an individual. If the target is discredited, the bully gets a ‘rush’ to feel their addiction of needing power over. Bystanders continue to listen because they are filling their need to connect. But we must ask ourselves when listening: is this at the expense of someone?

Why Do People Enjoy Hearing Gossip?

Gossip is almost always something personal toward the target where the target is being presented as ‘less than’. When we hear of someone as ‘less than’, we do not have to do the work to be more ourselves. Competitiveness is king in this equation. Anyone addicted to competitiveness and envy will surely have to discipline themselves to not gossip. But will they?

So, What’s The Answer? Commit to These Decisions:

  1. Decide to stop participating in gossip when it is at the expense of another.
  2. When you hear gossip, resist the temptation to contribute. You can be silent.
  3. Advanced leadership: kindly approach the person gossiping by changing the subject if the person gossiping is normally  good and simply got off track.
  4. Advanced leadership: gently confront the person gossiping by talking to them privately if you feel they could hear you and not become defensive. “I’m sure you didn’t mean it…”.
  5. Advanced leadership: confront the person within the group publically right away to help the target save face if the person gossiping is really running the target down. “Let’s stop…”
  6. If gossip is a problem in your organization, share with your manager that you’d like to see a policy in place to ward off gossip. Remember, a policy about anything must be clear as to what it is and what the consequences are if it happens. (Contact us if you need help)!
  7. If you are a target and you find out after the fact, continue to log your issues and have a collective case to go to a higher authority. Resist the need to defend yourself right away. Plan your move.
  8. Remember, the truth rises to the top. Most people hearing gossip don’t usually feel good about the person gossiping even though you can be under the illusion you are ‘getting along so well’.
  9. Become the change you want to see in the world, says Gandhi and stay positive by your example.
  10. Become more and more rooted into who you are and why you are here. Great leaders who have had to fend off gossip often say ‘the vision leads the leader’ even though there may be muddy waters…and there are muddy waters for us all.

Hearing that we’ve been gossiped about can be devastating. Know that it happens to good people. Know your own truth. Study rejection and how to handle it – Check out our book Mastering the Art of Success to help you.

Here’s to a future of support, kindness, gentleness, patience and hope.


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20 responses to “Workplace Bullying Gossip:
What Can You Do?”

  1. vicki says:

    This is being done in my workplace I was asked to do what I needed to do as a head cook now some woman went behind my back so now I am on the backburner but still do all the cleanup I need to know what to do it is very uneasy now to work.

  2. beentheredonethat says:

    In the end, you cannot control what others say and think and do. Everyone knows right from wrong, and will choose according to furthering their own agenda hidden or not. I have learned, painfully, that you can be as professional as you can be, but that’s controlling your actions. That is all you have control over. And if someone decides not to like you or feels you may pose a threat, they will do whatever it takes to get rid of you or make you uncomfortable enough to quit. Some may find what I write here defeatist, but it isn’t. It’s the truth. You can remind yourself all day long why you are at the job. If you are learning anything there, fine, if not, time to polish off the resume and learn some new skills. Your life and sanity are too precious to waste.

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  4. monir says:

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  5. Target says:

    so typical of my work place. Numbers work for bullies, the bigger the crowd is, the more powerful and influential the group is. Unfortunately, management tends to side with the bullies and in the worse case scenario, the bullies got support from management.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Yes and yes! My mission

  7. Midastouch Spellbound says:

    I agree with the first 2 points when its the other person, but what if you are the target and they are doing all the shady work behind your work. What if your colleagues who are gossiping right in front of you deny when confronted ?. What can you do ?.

  8. Christa says:

    I find that, often times, gossip ensues when management has not properly set job expectations (and accountability for those expectations in the workplace), which results in employee frustration. Much of the gossip at my old job stemmed from employees complaining about how others were not “pulling their weight”. This hurts team dynamic and productivity. If one employee has unfairly been determined “lazy” or “difficult to work with” by some, it is likely that the rest of the team will not take that employee seriously. While management could have done a much better job at setting job performance expectations and progress reports, we were all adults and should have known how to handle performance situations at the ground level.I completely agree with this article in that bullies tend to get a “high” off of convincing others about someone in the workplace. They feel a need for power and control- typically a derivative of their own insecurities. It’s almost narcissistic in a way. I frequently saw this with one individual in particular. The best way I found to combat her gossip was to direct the conversation to MY shortcomings in the office. For example, if she started talking poorly about someone’s job performance, I would acknowledge her comment, and then direct the conversation towards something brainless I had done. This decreased her desired drama of the conversation quite abruptly, and left her uninterested in telling her story to me. A narcissist’s biggest annoyance is hearing someone else talk about themself.

  9. Bully Free at Work: Valerie Cade says:

    Wonderful and less defensive for sure!

  10. Jenny Yasi says:

    I’ve been asking people to say, “let’s keep it kind” when they hear people bad-mouthing someone, rather than “stop” as they become more defensive with asking them to stop…

  11. Bully Free at Work: Valerie Cade says:

    There are many right answers!

  12. Midastouch Spellbound says:

    I disagree with the first 2 points. When you don’t participate be assured that you are the “talk of the town” sooner or later by these vested interests. I think I have an approach called “bust in the face”. Address the entire group on what Gossiping and why they should stop it before it hurts someone else….

  13. Monique says:

    Do you have a workshop somewhere in Montreal coming soon? A place to interact with other people such as myself. How many times must a person leave their job before you become the company joke? There’s no justice.

  14. Bully Free at Work: Valerie Cade says:

    A very good question and I might suggest “context” would have a lot of weight here – knowing the politics of the situation and the players, therefore, it depends. It’s sometimes helpful to decide who your allies are, check in with them first to see their loyalty and then if sharing information, try 1:1 to “Test the waters” and try folding people in one at a time. The other thought is having an ally speak on your behalf – to defend you if at all possible. Lastly, the truth tends to rise to the top – it can take longer, but this occurs over time when you keep giving your best. If you still feel the need to be understood and to clear the air, then you could also pick a safe person to connect on this issue and ask their advice on what to do. Doing so, they then see your truth but your’ve engaged them through asking for their help. If you do not have a lot of good will with this group then these things will be more difficult and leaving is sometimes a strong option. If you do have goodwill, then the above can help to shape a different perception over time.

  15. Christine says:

    Because the bully was spreading untruths about me which were very damaging to my reputation I was advised by my counsellor to either leave or let the group know what was going on. I did not want to leave but was accused of gossip by speaking out. WHat does one do?

  16. Defender says:

    Much more than Gossiping is “malicious Gossiping” which bullies & Sneaks resort to. They fabricate a lie and make it look like a Truth where everyone believes it. I recall an incident where I was having a Chocolate bar and suddenly a female colleague who was passing by remarked ” oh Jack, That’s selfish of you”. I shot back saying “you haven’t asked for it so you didn’t get it”. She came near to me smiling and took the Chocolate bar from my hand. Another Colleague (a vested interest a sneak or a talebearer you can say) who was watching all this happening from a far off distance fabricated the issue saying that I was taking the girl out and had proposed her by giving her a Chocolate. Now it went to such an extent that few weeks later the gossip hit the roof when some of the Colleagues were asking me how she was in the bed….I got to know about it only when I left the job and by the time the damage was already done.

  17. Sylvie says:

    Thank you. My approach too but any investigation is management-driven. I suggested conflict resolution several times. I encouraged management to listen to a webcast on workplace civility that they paid for me to participate in. I look for another job weekly. I have concluded management would prefer to play ostrich and believe their favorites. The culture is that entrenched here. “I am the problem” for not being “happy”. If anything, living through this experience may qualify me to help others in some way. I have resigned myself to no longer having a career, and now only see employment as a means to an end. Pays my bills, allows me to donate to charity, live in a nice place, drive a nice car, etc. Five more years is my mantra. Ironically in over 40 years of working this is the longest I have worked in one place. Saved the worst for last. Keep up the good work on providing reliable and valuable information for people who need somewhere to go and sort out what is happening to them, and the advice on what to do. And – screw them, I’m going to be happy anyways.

  18. Bully Free at Work: Valerie Cade says:

    Wow, this is somewhat typical, not in all cases, but it does get difficult when there are so many moving pieces. My best advice would be a more thorough investigation (third party) and the focus is on future behaviour then the focus can be on healing the past as it takes awhile to get to “what really happened” and sometimes it is never truly brought forward. Mediation is another way to go: focus is on what you want in instead/future. I am a big believer that it is difficult to “move on” sometimes without closure or understanding of reconciliation – without it it’s hard to develop and maintain trust. If you would like to contact us for a more further scope we’d be happy to help. This can allow you to give us a little more information. In the meantime, keep getting educated as this can be empowering (somewhat) if there is no real resolution. Here’s the link: Take good care.

  19. Sylvie says:

    My management is stuck. They don’t know who to believe, the target or the bullies. Bully gossip from five year’s ago included that the target is a liar. That gossip was further spread in meetings by the target’s manager, a star of the organization. This star manager used policy and bullying and lies and probably more to force the target into a burnout and then to be psychologically evaluated. The entire procedure felt slanted towards securing non accountability for the organization. When this forced exercise was done and the target returned to work, she faced a climate of suspicion, work and credit for it were give to one of her bullies, and then the process of bullying (as described in your checklist) began in earnest. There are no witnesses, and if there were none would come forward so large is the bully circle. The target’s response to this has been several: close down, acceptance, physical health issues, situational depression, frequent absences; followed by turning the page independently and being smilingly civil, lobbying (attempting to educate) management about workplace civility, bullying; looking for other work while afraid no longer up to the pace, to securing union’s acknowledgement that bullying is taking place but with no witnesses and denial ceding not much can be done. These days, the cretin bullies tell management that they have been trying to make friendly inroads with me -yes I am the target – while I have had my antennae up for five years waiting for that but it’s a lie. Meanwhile I smile and say “good morning” and they walk on by with a scowl and no response, and I don’t bother reporting it anymore because management doesn’t believe me. And then, joy of joys, during performance review I get a speech on integrity and respect. Got any advice on how approach this mess?

  20. Mike says:

    When to a workshop in Halifax 5 years ago were Valerie was the keynote speaker on workplace bullying. All unions and companies should have her in to speak to your members or employees – it helped me understand bullying a lot more after listening to and reading her book on bullying!

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Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

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