Gossip: Collateral damage - do I speak up or only talk if asked?
February 2, 2013 2:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm caught up in the gossip, but not the main character of the story. Should I go out of my way to tell my coworkers that I also deplore my "friend's" actions?

So much drama at work lately. I am featured in the latest tale, it's pretty serious- lots of lying, betrayal and broken hearts. I am not the bad guy in this story, but was unwittingly involved. It's pretty clear that nearly everyone knows.

I didn't do anything wrong, I was also not the wronged person--

I am feeling the impulse to tell people that I too find the actions of this coworker deplorable. I've discussed it with one coworker who I'm closer with, but so many other people know and I don't know how they see me in this story. It's kind of a hard thing to bring up and frankly I'd rather not discuss it any more than necessary.

I don't want my coworkers to think that I'm indifferent, don't care or in any way condone the actions of this person. I also, don't want to be running around just talking shit and creating more gossip.

What should I do? I'm already distancing myself from the offender, but should I make a point to talk to people who I don't normally talk much with about this and my perspective on it?
posted by abirdinthehand to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would stay out of it. You do have a right to say that you disapprove, but silence does not necessarily mean agreeing/condoning either.

You can always say that you want to stay out of the gossip if the topic comes up, which would be true.

Also, distancing yourself from the offender is good. That makes a statement in and of itself.

(This assumes that by "broken hearts" you're implying that it was a personal issue that got out of hand).
posted by Shouraku at 2:13 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

What should I do? I'm already distancing myself from the offender, but should I make a point to talk to people who I don't normally talk much with about this and my perspective on it?

Is the nature of the offense related at all to the work being done by these people or the business interests of your employer? If not, then distancing yourself from a colleague makes no professional sense and plays into the drama. You are at work; your professional relationships are primary. When other people question you about the drama, say you don't want to discuss it and either change the subject to something work-related or end the discussion altogether.

If the nature of the offense is related to the actual work, then discuss it only with those who are tasked with resolving the issue, and only in terms of how it's related to the company. When other people question you about the drama, say you don't want to discuss it and either change the subject to something work-related or end the discussion altogether.
posted by headnsouth at 2:13 PM on February 2, 2013

Just stay out of it.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:25 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds as though you work at a bar or a theater or some place where there's a lot of crossover between social and work life in the normal course of things, and where it would be sort of weird to go all "professional" all of the sudden since the culture of the place isn't typical office culture. (If not, for heaven's sake do go all professional!)

So let's say that you work at your awesome local cutting edge theater or popular collectively run cafe, and your life is naturally entwined with that of your co-workers - you probably would run into each other all the time at the store, at parties, in school, or at other cultural events even if you didn't work together. High-drama as this tends to be, IMO it has its advantages when compared to the extremely status-conscious and police-y culture of a lot of offices.

Anyway! Assuming that there's no sexual assault or violence involved, don't bring it up yourself but if it comes up, say something distancing and non-inflammatory on the lines of, "I know that Sara didn't make the best choices, but I hope that Sara and Jill can resolve this in a healthy way" and then change the subject, only use the language of your group. I assume that Sara did something godawful, but even if she did, it will almost certainly blow over in a month or two in a high-drama group, and you don't want to ruin your relationships with Sara or Jill. "Didn't make the best choices" is kind of hard to get upset about, I have learned, and it puts the onus right back on Sara while also leaving room for people to frame it as "Sara is a good person who made a bad choice". Also, being upfront yet kind ("she made a bad choice") will help build you a reputation for trustworthiness. It is rarely a good idea to get in the habit of thinking that people in high-drama circles are entirely good or entirely awful, since you keep having the flip-flop your opinions.

"And I'm just so sick of seeing her swan around here in Joe's jacket knowing that Jill is stuck at home with the baby!"
"I know it's a pretty difficult situation. It's all got to hurt a lot."
"Sara is nothing but a homewrecker!"
"I know she hasn't always made the best choices and I really hope everyone can resolve this somehow...But wait, how are we going to fill Jill's shift? Do you think Ismail would come in?"

If there was something unacceptably bad - Sara abused someone as opposed to getting drunk and having an adulterous fling -that is a huge can of worms and isn't going to right itself until someone leaves or Sara does some kind of real accountability process, but I hope that is not the case.

I think that in most work situations, you don't talk about stuff like this, but there are work situations where people would think you were a giant weirdo if you didn't comment at all, so the trick is to do it without escalating and while seeming kind.

It's better to have people think that you're a little soft on people than get all righteously gossipy. (Again, unless there is sexual assault, racism or something like that, in which case you have to make sure you take a firm line.) Also, probably everyone is fairly young at your job and many people come from rather rough-and-tumble situations, so even some of these cheating-and-heartbreaking situations have far more to do with personal trauma than with evil.
posted by Frowner at 2:42 PM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

"A difficult situation", "frustrating", "painful" - these are all good words for recognizing that people are having lots of feelings without taking a side or escalating. I have some practice with this as I have at several times in my life had friends who had really deep-rooted reasons not to get along and who sometimes did not treat each other very well - I always want to let people know that I am not under any illusion that "Sara" is perfect or that "Jill" isn't feeling bad, but I want to make it clear that I am not going to engage in a lot of trashing talk even if I want to hear and be supportive.
posted by Frowner at 2:47 PM on February 2, 2013

It sounds like you crossed the streams between work and personal life. Don't.

Also, another word for gossip is "slander" so please be careful never to say or imply anything unless you know it for a true fact that is not open to interpretation.

But really, you should stay out of it altogether. You weren't the wronger or the wrongee so I don't see where you're required to say anything. Although if this person dated you while lying about being in a relationship with someone else, you have a right to say "I did not know that this person was in a relationship when I dated them, I would never have dated them if I had known." If you were caught up in it to that extent, it's fair to set the record straight about your part in it.

Otherwise, stay out of it. There are few circumstances where you have a moral duty to denounce a friend/colleague, and while you may be in such circumstances, you haven't actually described any of them.

posted by tel3path at 3:11 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with the others, especially Frowner, who say that the best way of handling something like this is to avoid bringing it up and avoid fanning any flames if anyone tries to talk to you about it. "Yes, it is definitely a tough situation, I'm sure X is regretting some of her decisions" or things like that are good responses.

After all, while it's not a good idea to be seen to condone bad behaviour, you also don't want to be someone who turns on a friend who has made a mistake. In the long run, staying out of it is the best way to maintain respect and keep your dignity even when those around you are losing theirs.
posted by rpfields at 2:12 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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