Ask Amy: I work with a serial gossiper
I work in a small practice with a dedicated, hardworking team member who's adored by clients and feared by her co-workers. She goes from one employee to the next gossiping and pointing out others' mistakes. Because she's been with the practice so long and she's a good assistant, the boss seems to accept this flaw. He's talked to her several times but she doesn't improve for long.
How can we stop her? She's chased off several team members, and we're all afraid to speak up because we're scared she'll target us next.
—Dodging a BulletDear Dodging,
This is a difficult situation. You have my sympathy. The first problem, of course, is the boss. He's doing a disservice to the problem employee, your co-workers, and the practice by allowing this behavior to continue. If you haven't already—or if you can stand to try again—you and your co-workers should try to talk to the boss about the toll this employee's behavior is taking on the rest of you. Keep the conversation positive and professional. Acknowledge the serial gossiper's strengths, but be firm in your concerns. If that gets you nowhere, you'll have to deal with the gossiper yourself.
The best approach: Don't participate in her negative conversations. Peer pressure can be a great behavior modifier. So when she comes to you complaining about another employee, say something like, "I'm not comfortable talking about Sandy when she's not here." Cut the conversation short and walk away.
If you can't walk away because you're both holding a dog, repeat this phrase as she makes additional comments or remain silent. You and your colleagues may need to do this several times, but it can be very effective. Just remember to stay calm and professional and make it clear that you won't discuss these topics. —Amy