Ask Abbie: Using the Joan Rivers method to curb gossip

Published 11:19 am Saturday, January 4, 2014

Question: My office is full of gossip and it is really starting to become a problem. Discussions about a co-worker’s drinking or a manager’s sex life seems to take priority over the job to be done. I keep trying to ignore the gossip and tell everybody around me to do the same, but it only seems to be getting worse. Do you have any suggestions?


Answer: Joan Rivers has become famous not only for her significant additions to the field of entertainment, but also for her generous contributions to the industries of cosmetic surgery and gossip. In fact, many deem her to be an expert in the latter two. Unfortunately, despite my repetitive attempts to obtain her expert opinion on your question about gossip, Ms. Rivers has remained unavailable for comment. As a result, I am left only with her name to use as my inspiration for each of the following tips to help answer your question.

J. Just refuse. Refuse to become a part of any gossip. In addition, try to change the subject using a tactic such as word association whenever you encounter gossip. For example, when a co-worker starts to gossip about someone else in the office, change the subject. Interject something regarding the person being gossiped about that is not related to the topic being discussed. For instance bring up the subject of his car and relate it to a third party or subject, for instance your cousin’s car. The conversation will casually transition away from gossip and onto cars.

O. Overcome problems with solutions. Ask any of those who complain about the gossip for suggestions to resolve the problem. It will be impossible for them to focus simultaneously on the solution and the problem. The emphasis on gossip surrounding you will lessen.

A. Approach the gossiper. Approach the gossiper in a calm yet assertive manner. If he thinks his tactics will never be addressed, he will have no incentive to change his ways. This strategy does not guarantee he will stop gossiping, but does set the precedent for those around whom you work.

N. Never shoot the messenger. Never reprimand or take other negative action against the person who issues a complaint about the gossip to you. Should you reprimand the messenger, beware. Staff members will turn toward each other to vent their complaints, frustrations will escalate and you will erase the potential for any of them to approach you with a complaint in the future.

R. Remove the wax from your ears. Another way you could potentially feed the cycle of gossip’s appetite is to appear unwilling or unable to hear a complaint brought to you. Once again those who wish to complain will turn to venting their frustrations to each other and the situation will worsen.

I. Issues, issues, issues. Whenever you confront someone who has been gossiping, focus on issues and behaviors, not on the person. For instance, instead of saying, “You are nothing but a gossip and I am over it” consider saying, “I am concerned about the gossip and it needs to stop.” This approach helps you appear more professional and will increase the likelihood for your voice to be heard.

V. Verify information. Anytime it becomes impossible for you to avoid the gossip or you find it impossible to change the subject, at least attempt to verify the information you’re hearing. In general, things that are not true are only spoken of in broad terms; specifics are usually missing. Investigate accordingly.

E. Encourage open communication. Not only do you need to ensure those with whom you work feel as though they can approach you, you also need to ensure they feel as though you are being open and honest with them. If your co-workers believe you live a transparent life, their tendency to gossip about and around you will be reduced.

R. Refuse to become self-righteousness. Whenever you tackle the problem of gossip, do not announce your anti-gossip campaign, but instead launch your initiative and remain undercover. This way you will appear to be less of a condescending lecturer, be less likely to alienate your co-workers, and have less chance of creating a new potentially even more destructive problem.

S. Set the example and tone. You are a leader and must conduct yourself accordingly. As a leader, your tone dictates the tone of those with whom you come into contact. The moment you succumb to any of the negativity that surrounds you is the moment you endorse and support its initiative and so will they.

This concludes my advice for you, but as Ms. Rivers would say, “Don’t follow any advice, no matter how good, until you feel as deeply in your spirit as you think in your mind that the counsel is wise.”


ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to