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Know good gossip when you overhear it

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Do you know when water-cooler talk is good-natured (good gossip) and when it crosses the line (bad gossip)?

Here’s the test:

• Is it petty? Then it’s bad gossip. Talking about people’s grooming or dietary habits isn’t relevant.

Is it indiscreet? Bad gossip. Sending e-mail messages about sensitive topics could come back to haunt you. If you have sensitive information to share, relay it directly to that person and behind closed doors, if possible.

Example: If you know others aren’t pleased with the e-mail jokes that a co-worker has sent around, you might gently let him or her know that the practice isn’t being well-received.

• Is it intended to harm someone? Bad gossip. Griping about Sam from sales doesn’t reflect well on you, even if you have a perfectly justified reason for doing so. (For an exception to this rule, see the next rule.)

• Is it relevant? Good gossip. If someone asks you, for example, what you think about Sam’s work, you could say you’ve noticed that he has missed four internal deadlines in the past month. Since you haven’t been griping about him all along, your words won’t be tainted.

• Does it help people make important decisions? Good gossip. Example: Work mate Molly plans to buy a home soon, but you overheard in the elevator that layoffs are likely. An early and discreet tip-off can give her crucial extra time to send out her résumé.

• Does it help people do their jobs better? Good gossip. Before you share information, ask yourself: How will this information help this person? Is it something that the person can change?

Example: If telling someone about Sam’s inability to meet deadlines ultimately helps him overcome a procrastination habit, then you’ve done him a favor.


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