You've scrupulously avoided office gossip—even stopping others when they start to share a tidbit—but that isn't protecting you from being the subject of this week's chitchat. As you pass a cubicle, you hear two colleagues griping about you.

Wanting to jump quickly to your own defense is a normal reaction, but it might exacerbate the situation, making the others defensive and skeptical of anything you say.

Learn how to cope with Difficult People at Work

Follow these steps to salvage your reputation and stop the gossip.

1. Seek the root of the story. Is it a misunderstanding? Do they think you're shirking responsibility by skipping out before 5 p.m. because they don't know you're coming in early to work on a special project? Casually mention the situation to set the record straight without publicly embarrassing the gossips.

Is it fair criticism of you? Could the gossips be right that you are in over your head in leading that new committee? If so, take constructive action, and then thank the person who brought the issue to your attention—albeit by the wrong route.

Example: "After I accidentally overheard you criticize my committee leadership last week, I asked Joe for some advice to improve my skills. He was a great help. I hope that in the future, you'll come to me directly with any feedback. I value your opinion."

Is a nefarious motive at work? Knowing that a colleague is spreading vicious stories about you or betraying a confidence allows you to protect yourself in the future. It helps you "watch your back" around that person at all times.

Personality by personality, you'll learn how to identify, defuse, manage and even motivate the 24 all-time, most-challenging personality types. Learn How!

2. Focus on professionalism. Resist the urge to "cut them down to size" with a sharp comment. You'll get over it. Let your reputation talk.

At the same time, don't focus solely on your work and neglect the need to build relationships with your co-workers. They could be your allies. Isolation can make you a target.

Difficult People at Work tells you how to handle...
  • The Tyrant. An amazingly simple strategy softens the "rant" of a Tyrant Boss who bullies, berates, humiliates and declares "my way or the highway."
  • The Saboteur. Often driven by envy, this person works behind your back to slander and sabotage you. Devious and hard to catch – unless you know the secret!
  • The Coaster. Hasn't done anything in months. Drags down the team's performance. Here's how to get them rolling again.
  • The Petty Bureaucrat. Frustrated by a low-level position, this troublemaker takes pleasure in creating obstacles for others. But now, the jig's up!
  • The Malignant. Truly twisted. When you're up against someone so ready to lie, steal and cheat, here's exactly what you must do – and fast.
  • The Undercover Operator. Always smiling and telling you how great it is to work with you, until this snake-in-the-grass strikes. Three strategies expose – and defang – this operator's agenda.
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