How to recognise gossip in the staffroom


"No one gossips about other people's secret virtues." - Bertrand Russell

Your students swap stories about each other all day. Some of them are silly little tales; others really hurt and have the potential to damage a child’s relationships or self-esteem. You see what talking about others does to your kids, but how often do you find yourself embroiled in gossip at the staff room?

Some of us may see it as harmless banter, but gossip at work has the potential to damage a person’s professional image, hinder your career and destroy personal and professional relationships.

So, for starters, how do you recognise gossip, and then what do you do about it? The is the first in a two-part series on the topic. Today, we’ll deal with five ways to identify gossip. Next time, we’ll outline a few useful ways to deal with it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines gossip as "casual or unconstrained reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true, chiefly derogatory."

So, if a friend tells you that Mary Jo has announced on Facebook that she’ll be moving next month, it’s not gossip. It’s public knowledge, and it’s something Mary Jo wants others to know. If, however, the same friend tells you she heard that Mary Jo is leaving because her husband cheated on her with his secretary, that’s moving into gossip territory.

Huff Post provides a few keywords to distinguish whether what you’re hearing is gossip or news.

  1. Is it relevant?

    If someone says to you, "Your student Steven's father is a cross-dresser" you have to ask yourself how this is relevant to your job as Steven's teacher. Does Steven know about the cross-dressing? If so, is he bothered by it? If Steven has no clue or doesn't mind at all, then the information is irrelevant to you.

  2. What are the facts?

    Is the information being shared based on facts or hearsay? Did you hear it 'via the grapevine' or from a credible witness? For example, compare the following.

    • "Apparently the principle is going to cut the gym programme next year" versus:

    • "Mr Johns, the head of physical education showed me a memo that says the gym programme will be cut next year".

  3. Credibility

    It pays to ask yourself a little about the person sharing this juicy tidbit with you. Nesrin Everitt, an Executive Coach, asks the following questions. "Is the person sharing this information a close friend or colleague who you believe has your best interests at heart? Is this someone who likes to discuss everyone's business and jumps to share the latest intrigue? What is their track record of honesty? How much do you trust them?"

  4. Intention

    Why is this person sharing this story with you? If you can honestly decipher their intention, you can get a better feel for whether it falls into the 'news' or the 'gossip' category. Is their intention to seek help for this person, or to enjoy a good story at someone else's expense?

    Part of this process is to determine their motivation for talking. Could they possibly be jealous of the person they're talking about? Could they stand to gain if this other person's reputation is tarnished? Sometimes this is done in a subconscious rather than a premeditated manner. For example, if two teachers are both vying for a head of department position, one teacher may subtly mention to a few people that his rival could have a drinking problem. His intention may not be to ruin the other person's career, but he would certainly benefit if the school principal heard the rumour.

  5. How does it feel?

    Often, it comes down to your very basic instinct. How do you feel about what you’re hearing? Would you feel uncomfortable if the person being discussed walked into the room? Does it make you feel concern or worry for them? Or does it make you want to send a text message to your closest girlfriend sharing the crazy news?

If in doubt, before you share a story with someone, ask yourself the following question: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? If you answer NO to any one of those questions, then DON’T SHARE IT!

Use these questions to identify whether what you are encountering is gossip. If the answer is yes, then your next step is to learn how to neutralise it. Our next post will share more on just that.