How I Shut Down Catty Co-worker Gossip Without Even Opening My Mouth
Second to having a terrible boss is having terrible co-workers. It makes going into your job day in and day out unappealing at best, anxiety-inducing at worst. But what about co-workers that you neither love nor hate but whom you find unpleasant for other reasons?
Condescending co-workers are brutal, but catty ones aren’t much better. Their vicious or spiteful comments make you cringe and you wonder how no one else has noticed how obnoxious these people are.
If you’re lucky, you don’t have to work with these people regularly. Your interactions may be few and far between, but, nonetheless, when someone rubs you the wrong way, it can be hard to get past it. That one time you hear one of your colleagues say something insulting about another co-worker’s outfit is the moment that you stop seeing that person as a whole, imperfect human being who misspoke. Now all you see is a unhappy, one-dimensional person who’s obviously so insecure that she’s taken to criticizing someone else’s choice of clothing.
If you know for a fact that the offending party is really, truly hateful, and a lost cause, there’s not much you can do besides avoid the mean person. Of course, if the behavior is unarguably egregious, you may want to find a way to speak to someone higher up at the company who’s better equipped to handle it. This doesn’t make you a tattle-tale. If the situation is toxic and you think someone will listen, you should seek that person out.
But, if your catty co-workers are simply that and are most likely harmless apart from a few inappropriate comments or insults, there’s a way you can deal with it without driving yourself mad that’s always worked wonders for me.
What I like to do is start with a look. I call it the raised eyebrow. Know what I’m talking about? When someone says something unbecoming about someone else, either to me or within my earshot, I fix him with a look that says, “You did not seriously just say that?” without actually saying anything aloud. I do that and walk away, and I’m telling you, I have a 99% success rate of making my point without ever opening my mouth.
I started doing this because like a lot of you, I wasn’t comfortable speaking up in the face of cattiness. Even now, I’m still not great at it. I worry what the other person will think. I’m concerned about seeming like a goody-two-shoes. And, sometimes, I’m honestly happier avoiding conflict and workplace drama. And so, the easier, albeit less courageous move is silently expressing my discomfort.
But, by all means, if you’ve had it up to here and are comfortable vocalizing your dismay, go for it. Let’s say Donald and Leah are chatting over a cup of coffee in the kitchen when you walk in to get some water and happen to overhear Donald say, “Yeah, Jason could do so much better. He’s so out of her league.” Leah responds, “Totally, she’s not even that pretty.”
Jason is another co-worker, and you’re pretty sure they’re talking about his fiancé, who you all just met at the company happy hour. You’re so appalled that you stop in your tracks, turn to the offending speakers, and say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean for me to hear that, and, truthfully, I wish I hadn’t either. It’s not nice.”
You can say this without assuming a position of authority or place on a pedestal; you’re speaking up because you’re a compassionate person and you know those kinds of remarks have no place in your office. If you receive an apology, accept it and move on. You don’t need to deliver a diatribe (have you never, ever said something about someone else that you know you shouldn’t have?).
More often than not (hopefully), your co-workers are only guilty of occasional cattiness. Give them the chance to show you that it’s not their M.O. And as for you? The next time your own insecurity creeps in, threatening to have you opening your mouth and saying something regrettable, think again. Being known as the catty person in the office who’s best avoided is not a reputation you want.
Photo of catty co-workers courtesy of Martin Barraud/Getty Images.
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author