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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Career Tips
Have you ever worked in an office where a clique of employees was only too eager to spread gossip or run to the boss and tell tales about their colleagues? If so, you know what a nightmare such a work environment can be.
Those situations might involve:
- A slip of the tongue at the coffee machine about a coworker’s penchant for writing personal emails on company time
- A caustic comment in the break room about a vice president’s impending divorce
- A casual remark in the elevator about the HR director’s poor taste in choosing office furniture
The chances of that office scuttlebutt getting to the boss are 100 percent. You must watch your step every moment of the workday lest you fall victim to the “nest of vipers” around you.
Such experiences at a previous job can make employees all too reticent to open themselves to their coworkers at their new job. They demur when asked for their opinion on a project or business opportunity, preferring to stay in the background. Such a stance can inhibit professional growth and delay or destroy promotion opportunities and even pay raises.
One of the best ways not to be snagged into a bad work situation is to steer clear of office politics and the proverbial water cooler. The staff of Salary.com offers 10 suggestions on how to “keep a low profile and stay out of office gutter politics.”
1. Think Back to High School
In some respects, workplaces are a lot like high school. The same principles usually apply. Adults too have cliques and they can factor in your success. But if you make a misstep, you may find your reputation easily tarnished.
When you run into trouble with gossip and office politics with coworkers, think about it from the perspective of an adult giving advice to a high school student. What would you say to your high school self?
2. What They Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You
It’s best if your coworkers know enough about you to be able to have a friendly conversation, but not so much that any information they have could hinder your advancement. Any other information you give them might become dirt against you. Also, consider implementing a “work friends” privacy setting on your Facebook page if you’d like to friend your coworkers on social networks.
3. Communicate with Your Boss
Are you hoping to land a raise or promotion? Don’t let your boss find out about your goal through the grapevine.
You can make the decision easier by letting the boss know you’re interested in advancing. Your boss might also give you tips for improvement or steps you should take to get promoted.
4. Don’t Gossip
Gossip is the easiest way to get in trouble or appear immature. Nothing says “I’m not ready for a promotion” as much as trash talk. While it’s okay to socialize, you should know that everything you say could come back to haunt you, especially when someone else can benefit from labeling you as the source of the gossip.
5. Stay Informed
There’s a fine line between gossip and staying informed. So while you should avoid the trashy office talk, it’s still helpful to pay attention to what others say but not repeat it. This will prevent you from becoming ostracized.
While gossips’ information isn’t necessarily reliable, you might be able to pick up on clues about major changes such as corporate restructuring, new positions becoming available or outsourcing.
6. Choose Your Friends Carefully
Work would become almost intolerable without some social interaction. If you choose to socialize at work, make sure you choose your friends carefully.
If someone is always saying negative things about others, you could become one of that worker’s topics of conversation. Who you befriend at work could also influence the decisions your boss makes about you.
7. Know the Backstabbers Early
As soon as you start a new job, it’s essential that you identify the gossipmongers and backstabbers. Often, that’s not difficult to do.
These coworkers may want to take you under their wings initially, but such “friendships” come at a price. Hold out for better work friends who won’t talk negatively about you when your back is turned.
8. Think Long-Term
It can be frustrating and annoying when you find out someone at work has been spreading gossip about you. Revenge is sweet, but you have to think long term about your career. Take the high road. You’ll be better for it in the end.
9. Try Not to Vent at Work
Everyone gets frustrated at work at some time. But too much complaining will leave a negative impression and perhaps label you as a malcontent. If you feel like you’re being treated unfairly or if you confront a work-related issue that stymies you, take it up with your supervisor.
10. You Are Being Watched
When you’re at work, assume that someone is watching you and that everything is a test. Some people play games to see whether others are worthy of being trusted. When a manager trusts you with a juicy piece of gossip or a key project, make no mistake: it’s a test. Stay focused. Your performance could determine your future with the company.
Many employees quickly learn how to navigate around these perilous shoals. Those who do usually have smooth sailing at work from then on.
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