We’re all guilty. Well, I shouldn’t say that. There are those among us who choose not to participate, who simply turn away when tempted. We could use more of those people.

For the rest of us, myself included, the time-honored tradition of office gossip is a guilty pleasure that’s just too strong to ignore. Why do we do it? We know it’s wrong on so many levels: It’s unproductive, it’s dishonest, it’s hurtful, and many times, it’s downright silly. Yet, when presented with the latest tidbit about this or that, most of us not only listen closely but also feel the need to reciprocate with some “news” of our own. We then file that little gem away, waiting anxiously for the opportunity to share it with others.

Gossiping is unprofessional. It’s as simple as that. As a manager, the issue becomes even more serious in that it can undermine your credibility and negatively impact your effectiveness as a leader. How comfortable do you think a staff member would be coming to you about a problem when you’ve got a reputation for running your yap? Not very.

By the very nature of our positions as managers, what we say at the office is given extra credence. The higher up the ladder we rise, the more believable our stories become. And let’s face it: You can’t scold your team for spreading rumors if you’re guilty of the same offense.

Just say no
I would lump all rumors into two categories: those that are work-related and everything else. I’d say the split is maybe 10/90, or at best, 20/80. Let’s deal with the “everything else” category first.

Admittedly, these are the fun ones. Office romances, family issues, coworkers fine-tuning their resumes—all seemingly fair game. The only problem is that these reports are usually false and never important. Frankly, it’s none of my business. Or yours either. We’ve all got more important things to do with our lives, I would hope. What’s the best thing to do the next time you hear something like this? Do anything but fuel the fire—change the subject, walk away, compliment the person’s shoes…whatever it takes. There are a handful of times each day when a manager can lead by example; this is one of them.

Work-related gossip is a little trickier. Why? Because some of it might be true and therefore have a serious impact on the place we spend eight or more hours a day. Issues such as personnel changes, acquiring or losing clients, or new office locations deserve to be addressed. But they should be addressed by those who know what’s going on. Anything else is speculation that is of little value.

Unless you know for certain about impending changes and you’re in the position to talk about them, don’t address business rumors. Your team will respect your decision to keep information confidential until it is appropriate. And don’t lie to your employees. If something can’t be shared, then say so. Pretending not to know about something, then having to admit that you did, makes you look either dishonest or incompetent (take your pick). The other alternative—sharing everything with your employees—is well intentioned but flawed. We can all just tell “one or two key people,” but as I’ve seen too many times, that number soon grows to become everyone on the payroll.

I don’t expect that we’ll hang a closed sign on the rumor mill anytime soon; old habits are hard to break. But I’ve heard that if we all pay it a few less visits each day, it might slowly go out of business. But I can’t tell you who said that; I never reveal my sources.