How to Be Successful: Don’t Gossip

At one institution where I worked, gossip was the game of the day, every day.  The staff gossiped with the faculty who gossiped with each other. It was largely because the flow of information was terrible- there was no communication from senior leadership, so everyone speculated on what was going on.  It created an unpleasant culture, diverted people from work, and made people paranoid that they were being talked about.

So here’s a pro tip for life, not just your career: don’t gossip about other people.  Gossip is sharing private or semi-private information about someone and/or speculating or grumbling about their actions.  People gossip because they believe it imparts some social capital to them- that others respect them because they know things.  That may be true for some people, but there are just as many people who disdain the gossipers and find the act distasteful.

Note the difference between gossip and a constructive conversation about someone. If you genuinely believe someone’s behavior needs to be addressed, bring that to them or their superior in private. Don’t just rant about the person for no reason except social cache or to pass the time.

One of my favorite quotes goes something like, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”  Don’t you want to be considered one of the more interesting conversationalists?  Unless you are among close friends, don’t talk about other people.

OK, so you want to talk to others at work.  I understand that. Instead of talking about other people, here are some suggestions for casual conversation:

  1. Kids and pets.  Who doesn’t love talking about their kids and pets?  Particularly in veterinary medicine, this is low-hanging fruit for conversation.
  2. Rotations.  When talking to senior students or house officers, what rotation were they on, what are they going to, what has been their favorite, or to which are they looking forward?
  3. Cases.  If you are on clinics, discussing interesting cases or cases without an answer can be a fun exercise.  Be careful not to veer into the “I didn’t agree with this person” blaming territory.
  4. Weekends.  Did the person do anything fun last weekend or have any plans for next weekend?
  5. Trips.  Has the person been on any trips lately or are they looking forward to any in the future?
  6. Future plans.  What do they want to do with the next step in their career?  Do they have any projects they’re interested in starting?

Gossiping is unprofessional and rude.  It creates a destructive, unhealthy work culture.  When you are at work, focus on Doing Your Job. If you absolutely must vent about someone, go out for some beers with friends (preferably non-work-friends) AFTER work. Even then, keep it non-specific and anonymous; you never know who else is at the bar who might be listening, or how your rantings might get back to the people you work with. Keep WORK about WORK.  Showing you are there to Get Things Done will ALWAYS reflect well on you!

Why do you think people gossip at work?  Please share in the comments!

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