In the world of career advice, there are a couple of firm no-no’s that make sense in theory, but in my many years of experience, these simply aren’t consistent with human nature. While yes, it may be best that you don’t find yourself attracted to the woman in accounting, or that you 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, but the reality is: she’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.
Whether you like it or not, gossip is a part of the career landscape. While you should absolutely steer-clear of the malicious, bullying, back-stabbing, 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 career.
1. Give to Get: From lay-offs to promotions, the truth is having your ear to the ground will help ensure you don’t miss out on the goodies that may affect your career. But there is a quid pro quo expected as part of the rumor mill and if you’re not willing to participate, you’re going to be out of the loop. The best way to ensure you are armed and ready is to have some factual and positive news to share. Follow your co-workers’ status updates as well as other companies within your industry so you can pipe in with comments like, “Did you hear that Bob got a promotion?” The other trickier but very potentially powerful element of the Give to Get concept is using it to establish loyalty and allegiance. 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. Lead the Way: One of the most effective ways of leading the direction of gossip in a positive and productive direction is to be prepared. You never know when you’re going to hop on the elevator to find your boss who wants to know what you think about the latest IPO or who made a startling entrance at last night’s marketing gala. Ideally, you’ll already be up to speed and ready to take advantage of this impromptu and relationship-building tete a tete.
One of the realities of this digital era is that news comes at us at a fast and furious pace, and more often than not, is delivered to us 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.
Out of the Office: While I’m not particularly proud of it, The Bachelorette is on my TiVo – 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 lives of 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 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.
3. Make it Stop: Speaking of which, here’s a little lesson for those of us on the receiving end of gossip, especially when it comes to the world of office dating. Speculation is infinitely more interesting than reality. There are three ways to stifle the gossip-mongers when it’s your life and career on the block. (1) Tell the truth: I’m not recommending sharing TMI here! Just a simple, mature acknowledgment of the relationship will do just fine. (2) Direct confrontation: When it comes to the bad kind of gossip, the culprits are generally bullies and they tend to back off when faced with a simple “What did you say?” (3) Distraction: Being the focus of gossip isn’t so bad when it’s about the kick-ass job you did on the client proposal. Update your profile status with lots of fun, positive and team-based congratulatory messages, and you’ll be sure to get the right kind of attention.