Whether you like it or not, gossip is a part of the career landscape. While you should absolutely steer clear of the malicious, bullying, backstabbing, falsehood kind of word-on-the-street, there are times and places when getting and having the goods are going to be hugely advantageous to your job.
In the world of career advice, there are a couple of firm no-nos that make sense in theory but, as I’ve found in my many years of experience, simply aren’t consistent with human nature. While yes, it may be best that you don’t find yourself attracted to the guy in accounting, down a club soda rather than a glass of chardonnay at the company picnic, and steer clear of the water cooler conversation about the impending merger, the reality is: he’s cute, it’s cold, and if you’re about to be down-sized, it’s better to be on the in than the out.
One of the realities of this digital era is that news comes at us fast and furious and more often than not is delivered online. I have heard more than one story of an employee learning her colleague has just been laid off via her profile status or that the company is in financial distress via a newsfeed rather than from the C Suite. Check out your industry-specific LinkedIn Today newsfeed to help you prioritize and sort through the news that’s making the rounds, and follow these steps to make the most of gossip.
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1. Become a Good-Natured Gossip
Sure, you appreciate an inside scoop now and then—who doesn’t? You understand that women trade information like a commodity, and you make it work for you by being the one who shares gossip about how she got a promotion or got engaged. Always make sure you have positive and, more importantly, factual news to share. Be on the receiving lines of good gossip tips by following companies and your co-workers’ status updates. You can always be prepared to chat about Joann’s new promotion.
Keep in mind that not partaking in any gossip could work against you. Remember, performance isn’t everything. Love ’em or hate ’em, office politics count. Gossip fosters an atmosphere of intimacy, and people bond as they share information. If you hear that there is a promotion in the pipeline that may affect your boss, deciding to share that information may very well ensure that she’ll have your back come your yearly review.
2. Bond over The Bachelor
While I’m not particularly proud of it, The Bachelor is on my DVR—and it turns out it’s on my boss’s as well. The purpose of gossip is often to get past the day-to-day grind of work. A little detour into the Real Housewives can be a powerful way to safely bond over the lives of others. And in some cases, it can even translate into an informative workplace discussion: Mad Men regularly makes the rounds of marketing industry publications and LinkedIn Group discussions. Frivolous and unrealistic maybe, but at the end of the long day, it’s better to be talking about Don Draper’s love life than your boss’s.
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3. Don’t Add Fuel to the Fire
When it comes to the world of office dating, rumor is infinitely more interesting than reality. There are few tactics to subdue the chatter, especially when it’s your life and career on the chopping block.
- The truth goes a long way: Be honest and upfront with your co-workers, but spare them the intimate details. Acknowledge the relationship and leave it at that.
- Confront the gossip head-on: If you keep hearing whispers, stop the gossip-mongers in their tracks asking them to explain themselves.
- Deflect, distract, and move on: Being the object of gossip isn’t so bad when you shift it to the kick-ass job you did on last night’s event. Use this as an opportunity to update your profile status with lots of fun and positive feedback, extending a “Congrats” and a “Thank You” to co-workers who pitched in as well.
4. Trust Is Fragile
Never bad-mouth your company, co-workers, or superiors. Anything that’s not true is slander and against the law, especially when it’s in writing.
If your boss senses you can’t be trusted, it’ll be next to impossible to change her mind. Indiscretion threatens your ability to form true partnerships and could destroy an otherwise promising career. Even if your performance is stellar, your boss won’t confide in you.
On the flip side, you want to be your boss’s biggest promoter. Make sure to sing his or her praises to clients and co-workers. If you do get windfall of something like staffing changes at a competitor from a reliable source before this information becomes public, pow-wow with your boss. You could potentially use the news to create new business and boost your own career.
Nicole Williams is the bestselling author of three books, the latest of which is Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success. Nicole is also LinkedIn's Career Expert. The company she founded, WORKS by Nicole Williams, is the go-to resource for career-minded young women and was named one of Forbes magazine's Top 10 Career Websites for Women. You’ve seen her on TV—as a regular guest on Today, Good Morning America, and CNN—and in print, where her advice has appeared on the pages of SHAPE, Redbook, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, and the Wall Street Journal. Visit NicoleWilliams.com, and follow her @TheGirlOnTop and on LinkedIn.