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People Are Talking About You at Work, Here’s How to Shut Their Big Fat Mouths

Pigeons gossiping

Office gossip, it’s the worst, amirite? You know what else is the worst? Jason Bramwell’s secret Louboutin collection. I heard from Liz in marketing that he rocks those size 13 stilettos like no one’s business when his wife isn’t watching. True story.

OK, that isn’t true and Liz never said that. But that’s how easy it is for a rumor to start, and once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no shoving that sucker back in, so Bramwell is just going to have to accept that he’s known to the entire internet as a crossdresser now, sorry bro. Every office in every industry has its share of gossip, from your local grocery store to the White House, catty folk with nothing better to do are spreading rumors like herpes at a back-alley ’80s gangbang.

The problem can be especially pervasive in public accounting, where long hours, poor communication, and hordes of overworked introverts make for a tornado of low whispers and rumor mongering. Hell, for the first few years of this website, our entire existence was built around rumors and whispers and public accountants saying things about their firms no one dared to say in the office.

Whispers, according to this recent Journal of Accountancy article, are a sign of a gossip problem.

There’s an easy way to tell whether your office has a gossip problem, said Heather Kephart, CPA: Listen for the whispering.

“There’s no good reason to whisper unless you’re in a library,” said Kephart, director of financial reporting at Koniag Inc., an Alaska Native Corporation headquartered in Kodiak, Alaska. “It creates distrust, it creates questions. You always wonder, ‘Who are they talking about?,’ never, ‘What are they talking about?’ “

OK, that’s a little paranoid, don’t you think? Caleb once gave me a piece of advice in the midst of a narcissistic breakdown: “No one thinks you’re as important as you think you are.” I think that’s what he said, I forget actually because his tone pissed me off, but in hindsight I understand what he was trying to say. People care way less than you think they do. Becky and Kim over in the corner whispering are probably trying to keep it down, because this is an office, damnit, and people are trying to work. But whatever, we’ll go ahead and pretend it’s high school.

Heather also suggests that kudos (or, as the oldies like to say “participation trophies for the kids”) can quell interpersonal conflicts that may be causing strife in the office.

Letting everyone know who is contributing to good work getting done can curb the backbiting and distrust that Kephart says are the roots of discord among co-workers. She recommends having regular sessions that give everyone on the team a chance to recognize coworkers for their contributions.

“It takes a half hour to go around the room and have everyone express something positive they want the rest of the group to know,” Kephart said. “You start to realize, hearing this month after month, that the person you’ve been gossiping about or don’t like actually does a lot of good in the organization.”

Yeah right. Every Monday on our weekly conference call, I can just hear Bramwell seething in his Louboutins from 1,000 miles away when I get headpats for creating a beautiful clickbaity headline. I bet he has an AG voodoo doll with a knife right through her big, fat brain that he twists every time I get praise from TPTB. Good thing he lives several states away or I’d watch my back every time I hear high heels clicking down the street behind me.

Praise is definitely a good thing, but I’ve been in a situation with a crappy coworker (no, not Bramwell), and let me tell you, everyone rolled their eyes when our boss gave this person praise. And no one, I mean no one, liked him more because of it. If anything, it just made us talk even more shit, trying to work out why our boss was chugging this guy’s Kool-Aid so hard. So yeah, take the above advice with a large chunk of salt.

The biggest takeaway from the JofA article comes courtesy of advice to management. Are you craggy, old bastards listening? Hike up those wrinkly balls and take a seat, you need to read this.

Nothing can quiet a rumor mill like an open door. T.J. O’Neill, CPA, tax supervisor at Mueller Prost in St. Louis, believes being forthright with employees can head off rumors before they have a chance to grow.

“When a leadership team can answer the questions people are afraid to ask, it squashes a lot of questions people are going to have,” O’Neill said. He suggests holding periodic meetings to share as much behind-the-scenes information as possible — everything from revenue projections to staffing decisions — to keep everyone up-to-date.

Now, it is not in our best interest to encourage transparency within accounting firms, since this site is fueled by paranoia and general distrust of leadership, but it’s good advice regardless. A lack of transparency leads to mistrust leads to paranoia leads to … well. This. It leads to some hack “news” organization (LOL) breaking the news of mergers and layoffs because leadership didn’t feel staff deserved the courtesy of knowing what’s going on before the profession at large.

No matter what anyone does, people are going to talk. Just do your job and hopefully your bitch of a coworker won’t go around telling people you are secretly smushing your gnarly Shrek paws into high heels when no one is around.