In-House Counsel

Moonlighting: Office Gossip — It’s Not High School; It’s Much, Much Worse

So, OMG you seriously haven’t heard that Brittany likes Mark, but Mark likes Claire even though he’s flirting with Brittany? Yeah, Mark — the guy who’s so dumb that the last time he cheated on a test he still failed… I know right, he’s so hot!

High school gossip can cover many aspects of life. Sometimes the chatter is about school and tests. Sometimes it’s about who got invited to the cool parties and got sick on the street later. But most often, it’s about juicy dish. (Kind of like ATL, pimply puberty-style, except… hmm, never mind, it’s just like ATL.)

In-house gossip is thoroughly less satisfying. It’s more about who ticked off whom a couple of years ago, who’s slacking off and getting away with it when the rest of us can’t, and who could vie for the gold if kissing up to senior executives were an Olympic event. The juicy stuff that I used to get wind of once in a while from law firm peers seems rare in an in-house setting. Little did I realize that I was giving up such a quality of life factor when taking this job. People really need to give you a heads up about these things.

Seriously though, kids who gossip in high school are immature. But, well, that’s just about everybody in high school, so it’s all good. (The mature ones are the weirdos — avoid them like the plague, high school kiddies.) Gossiping at work, however, is viewed as less acceptable and is instead indicative of needed soft skills improvement…

Why do people gossip at work? Lots of reasons. As in high school, some people are insecure and it just makes them feel better to talk badly about others. Some do it for the attention. Some just think it’s kind of fun… in a spreading potential lies that may ruin people’s lives kind of way. (You know, like how political candidates have fun!)

Another reason that people gossip in the workplace is if they have a legitimate issue with a co-worker. Instead of addressing the problem directly with the other person, however, they do the passive-aggressive thing and the avoiding-conflict thing by instead doing the complaining-and-venting thing to others around them. Ironically, some of these people believe they’re taking the high road by not complaining to the individual they have a problem with.

As mentioned before, soft skills are a big deal for in-house lawyers. If you find that you’re gossiping so much that you’re losing track of who you complained about to whom, perhaps it’s time for some soft skill intervention — specifically in the skill of conflict resolution.

For starters, if you’re unhappy with a co-worker for whatever reason, try not acting like a total wuss. Partial wussiness may work for you, as it has for countless others. Approach the other person directly with your peeve. This will give each of you an opportunity to work on a resolution which you can later claim as just your own. And, as always, be sure to keep an open mind. Despite what your mommy told you, no, you don’t know everything, you’re not always right, and you can’t have another piece of candy. Because I kinda ate the last one. My bad.

If a sincere effort to resolve the issue directly with the other person doesn’t work, then figure out whether it’s so bad that you should talk to their manager. If it’s really unfair, impeding your work, or bringing down morale, then yeah, it’s probably a good idea. If your colleague’s habit of clipping his toenails at his desk is more of a minor irritation, then maybe not. If you do end up going to his boss, at least pretend that you’re seeking advice to solve the problem, rather than just trying to complain or bring him down.

If you’re on the receiving end of office gossip, keep in mind that you’re only hearing half the story. No matter how bad something sounds, it may actually be ten times worse if you get the full picture. Unlikely in an in-house context, but one can always hope.

Now, I’m not saying that you should confront people in every single situation. There are exceptions to everything. For example, if your CEO has B.O. and your own title doesn’t have a “Chief” or “General” in front of it, best to sit back and embrace the musky aroma than to call out the dude who can ensure that your bonus stays at minus 20% every year. Similarly, if you’re bothered by the fact that the young lady who had a baby last year looks like she still hasn’t been able to lose her love handles, withhold this brilliant thought of yours. Unless you’re in high school. In which case, OMG, I totally thought I overheard that she’s having another baby! Oh wait, maybe what they said was that she loves gravy… or it could have been that her hair is incredibly wavy…

Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments