Does anyone in your work-life gossip or complain about others? If they’re trashing someone else, there could be several reasons. The caution is that if they are kvetching about others, brace yourself because they are probably doing it about you too.
MAYBE THEY’RE JUST VENTING:
We’re all human. Sometimes things will get under your skin. When they do, you need to blow off steam. Where this steam blows is where discretion and professionalism comes into play. When people chose the wrong person to listen, havoc wreaks. If you’re the lucky chosen one to play audience, consider yourself flattered. The complainer may think of you as a “safe place”, a trusted confidante, and actually that’s a compliment if that’s as far as it goes. If however, it becomes a regular practice about many people, that is more about a character flaw in the complainer.
MAYBE THEY’RE STUCK ON “COMPLAIN” MODE:
If the person goes on and on, repeats again and again over the weeks, the months, perhaps the years, it’s too much. You listening attentively feeds the complaining. If their complaining is about another person (and it usually is), and they are doing nothing about , speaking directly to the person who is the source of their frustration, it is absolutely your prerogative to gently nudge them to action. Help them enunciate the challenge and then develop some possible solutions and plans of attack. Sometimes people complain because they don’t know what else to do and they feel powerless. Assisting them in creating options may empower them and shift them from complaining to creating. You could play a very important role in moving them to action and helping to change their situation.
MAYBE THEY NEED TO BE STOPPED:
When venting crosses the line to being malicious, nasty or untrue, that’s where boundaries are to be drawn. If venting is all they want to do, that’s what girlfriends and martinis or the guys and pizza are all about — not colleagues. If your colleague, client, employee or boss is complaining over the top, that’s different. Be there for support. Don’t be there to be their audience because if you don’t respond or engage, sit there and say nothing, your silence is taken as tacit approval. The person will continue to bash others and welcome you as a willing participant. Don’t play ball. Let them know that you don’t feel comfortable discussing this. Suggest they speak to an authority figure, someone who’s responsible for dealing with this type of complaint, or the person who is the source of their frustration. Redirect their energies to something more productive, then run like the wind. And most certainly, if the complaining is about you in your presence and especially if in front of others, squish it dead right there. Blatant lies damaging your character and reputation are never to be tolerated.
If you say nothing, this type of behavior becomes the norm. It helps to create an unhealthy workplace environment. Is that the type of environment you want? Does this type of behaviour reflect your personal values? If not, you speaking up and not being part of the audience will help to curb the behavior. Avoid feeding the gossip beast.
If all that is not enough reason to draw the line in the sand, think about this: If they talk about others, they’ll talk about you too. And dollars to donuts, what they say will be equally nasty and untrue. You deserve more, and by creating boundaries, more is exactly what you’ll get. You create your own reality. Let it be a great one.
Originally published ©2019 Marion Grobb Finkelstein, updated 2023
©2023 Marion Grobb Finkelstein (MarionSpeaks)
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX “Award for Leadership in Service Innovation”
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