Are you the victim of office gossip? Ten Hot Tips to assist with constructive confrontation

7 pictureThe focus of a recent coaching session with one of my protégés was the treatment of her by two other colleagues, who had been allegedly spreading rumours about her perceived extra-curricular relationship with a senior member of staff.

Naturally, my protégé was terrified of confronting the situation. In fact, I believe most people don’t confront issues that are bothering them, for fear of retribution or worsening the situation. So people go on to tolerate unfair and unreasonable treatment, which, in truth, can negatively affect someone’s reputation, performance, self-esteem and consequently, life in general.

Unfortunately conflict is a part of life and it does and will continue to exist throughout our working lives. But if handled appropriately, it can lead to greater outcomes than you first imagined. It can be incredibly daunting and unnerving to confront your colleagues about a particular issue that is bothering you. However, you will be successful at this if you approach it in the right way. A reasonable person will not be defensive, should listen to your concerns and be able to have a mature, calm conversation, provided you address it a constructive way.

Here are my 10 HR Hot Tips for constructive confrontation:

1. Prepare – Get clear in your mind what it is you want to present and how you want to present it. Jot down some bullet points, and practice with a friend if need be. Have the facts and any supporting evidence ready.

2. Set the tone – Open the meeting in a calm way without being accusatory. This is simply a fact-finding conversation, a discussion between two colleagues. You could open by saying: “Something has been brought to my attention that I would like to discuss with you. It’s sensitive but it’s important to me so I need to address it.”

3. Keep it factual – Present evidence to your colleague in a matter of fact way, such as “I was told that you did xyz, and I want to understand from your point of view exactly what happened.” Giving them the opportunity to speak, and asking questions rather than telling, will encourage them to be more open. Keep any emotion out of it and don’t point any fingers until you have allowed them to explain the situation in their words from their perspective.

4. Be results oriented rather than detail oriented – Think about the outcome you want to reach before you go into the meeting and don’t lose sight of this. Focusing on the nitty gritty “he said-she said” will be counter productive and take away from what you’re trying to achieve. Focus on the bigger picture – the result.

5. Watch your language – Using terms like “I’m not attacking you” or “I’m on your team” or “I need your support” shows you are a harmonious, team player and that you want a good working environment for everybody. Be calm, diplomatic and avoid swearing at all times.

6. There’s a time and a place – Don’t blindside by springing it on your colleague unannounced or in earshot of others. Book a meeting room or go to the coffee shop to have a discussion offsite. Your colleague may be completely unaware of the impact their conduct is having on you, so make sure you are both in what feels like a safe place so you can talk candidly.

7. Hold your credibility and dignity – Try and stay calm and focused on the facts at hand, and don’t get emotional. In other words, give your colleague absolutely no ammunition they can use against you for your conduct. People get defensive when you question their integrity and character – you don’t want them to retaliate by putting in a grievance against you for your conduct towards them.

7 Women-Confrontation8. Be empathetic – How would you want to be confronted if someone had a problem with you? How would you react if someone confronted you about a sensitive, sticky situation – whether it was true or not? I’ll bet you would want to be approached in a calm manner and given the opportunity to explain. Give your colleague the same respect.


9. Maintain control – Staying focused on your key areas of concern should minimise the risk of diverting off the topic. Your colleague may react by bringing up issues they have with you that they have never addressed before. If this occurs, listen and be open to discussing their concerns, but this is your meeting that you called so try to always lead back to the main purpose of the meeting. You can always ask what has prevented them from raising their concerns with you prior to now.

10. Reach a resolution – Ideally, the problem will be contained to the two of you, and the area in which you’re sitting. Don’t stop the meeting until you have reached an agreed resolution, and thank your colleague for their time and attention and support. In cases where this is not possible, however, it may need to be escalated to a higher level. In this instance, you have the benefit of trying to resolve the issue yourself, first hand, which I always recommended prior to involving your leaders who usually don’t have the time or interest in office gossip.

So what was the outcome?

My protégé approached both people  individually. The first colleague felt really bad about the situation, was very apologetic and committed to shutting down the gossip about this topic in the future.

The other was not so easy going. She was defensive, denied any wrongdoing and said she felt they were “friends” and told my protégé to stop being paranoid. My protégé challenged her on this, but the colleague would not admit her part in the situation, so instead also committed to shutting down any gossip that got brought up. Which says a lot about #2’s character (if of course, she was lying).

When we debriefed, my protégé advised that although she was scared and nervous at first, she felt more confident now having handled the situation herself. In closing, always address your concerns yourself in the first instance. Constructive confrontation is healthy, and a reasonable person will listen, will not be defensive, will be open, and will be willing to grow from this experience.

Are you encountering a similar experience that you need support with? See for more information about coaching services I provide.

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2 thoughts on “Are you the victim of office gossip? Ten Hot Tips to assist with constructive confrontation

  1. Pingback: Does your workplace have a toxic culture? – HR HOT TIPS

  2. Pingback: One Bad Apple – HR HOT TIPS

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