Q. One of my co-workers is always gossiping, and it borders on slander. She told a number of people in the office that I was in trouble because she saw me come out of my boss’ office crying. In reality, I was telling him about a serious health issue. Is there something I can do about her?
A. Your colleague didn’t just border on slandering you; she slandered you. Slander is making a false spoken statement damaging a person’s reputation. Depending on how noble and energetic you feel, there are three courses – each one more difficult and honorable than the previous.
Don’t do anything. She is who she is and she’ll do what she does. Proverbs 20:19 reminds us, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who speaks foolishly.” This approach has its merits. You’re not likely to change her. Her habit is driven by a bigger set of issues. A gossip is a small minded person with low self-esteem. Just ignore her. But realize that in doing so you’re ratifying or giving sanction to her wrongdoing.
She did you wrong. Give her a chance to do right. Be straightforward. Tell her that she spread a false statement about you and damaged your reputation, and ask for an apology. Don’t be emotional or confrontational, but very matter-of-fact.
This approach has its downsides. According to Proverbs 15:12, “A scoffer does not like to be reproved.” (Proverbs 15:12) If she denies it, simply end the conversation. You’ve made your point and gotten it off your chest. And it might at least inhibit her. If she apologizes, graciously accept it.
If you don’t get satisfaction from talking with your colleague, take your grievance to a higher level. Gossip and slander wreak havoc on the workplace, undermining trust, teamwork, retention and productivity. See if your boss would be willing to address this issue. Your colleague could be talked to privately and asked to upgrade her professional conduct. Or the boss could even advance a no-gossip policy to your team. He could quote physicist Marie Curie: “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas” If they’re a top-flight team with good character, this could work. If they’re not, don’t touch the touchy subject. It will backfire.
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (www.spitzercenter.org).