Nosy Co-worker Gossips and Gossips!

Question:

My wife is a shy person, and a hard worker. She always refuses to get involved in office political games. She has advanced over the years by simply showing she is a self-motivated workhorse. But in her new team, she has some conflicting personalities.

There are 5 women. My wife is the second most tenured employee in the group, and the team lead just started last week. A woman, who has been with the company the longest, has no life outside of work and even calls in to my wife during her days off. She has no authority in the group, but always wants to be in the loop on the office gossip. She also constantly calls my wife while both are at work and emails her in order to gossip about some of the less efficient workers in the group.

This makes for a very uncomfortable situation for my wife because she does not want to be involved in these discussions because my wife’s desk is right next to the team leads. How can my wife tell this woman that she enjoys being her friend but does not feel it is appropriate to talk about these things in their small office environment? My wife understands people need to vent about their jobs but thinks that perhaps this woman doesn’t understand about appropriate office etiquette.

Signed,

Hopefully Helpful Husband


Answer:

Dear Hopefully Helpful Husband:

I can see the problem, and it’s actually a common one: People wanting to feel like they’re involved in something that isn’t relevant to their work. Gossip is often a problem for those who want to feel in. It’s often related to problems with self-esteem. In any case, there are a few things that stand out in this situation.

Does the team have a mission statement that has everyone on board, in terms of its purpose and goals? That’s one way of having team member’s focus less on gossip and distractions. If the team doesn’t have a mission or vision statement, the group should write one–even a 2 or 3 sentence statement can help the team to focus. That gets everyone on board. Also, the team’s activities should be spelled out, in terms of who is responsible for what activities. In short, the team probably needs more definition so there is less room for confusion.

As for what to specifically say to the nosy co-worker, you hit on the right idea at the end of your question. I would suggest that your wife ask the nosy woman to go for coffee or lunch some day. If she agrees to go, have the usual chitchat and then your wife could say something like, “I want you to know that I do value our friendship. At the same time, I would like to let you know that I prefer not to get involved in office gossip, and I need to focus on my work during the day. An occasional conversation about work problems is okay, but I don’t have time to do it as often as we are doing it now.” Notice that your wife should not blame the other woman for what is bothering her. That will often create an argument.

She might have to make this point several times over several weeks, but if your wife redraws this boundary, the woman should get the point. In a situation like this, your wife will have to assert her needs more clearly. If not, I think it will be more of the same. I hope these suggestions help!

WEGO is working together to solve out problems through communication Let us know how things go

Steven H. Carney