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The tricky situation: One issue I continually beat my head against the wall with is dealing with people (namely co-workers) who talk poorly about others and gossip pretty much every single day. I feel so uncomfortable around them. They do that whole whispering in each other’s office thing, smile at your face only to stab you in the back. I know I’m doing the same by talking about them here but that is the thing I’m trying so hard to figure out and move beyond.

I’ve been at my job for too long but other prospects are lacking, and due to my complicated medical insurance and financial situation, I can’t up and quit, so while I’m there I have to get this thing figured out in order for me to have some semblance of sanity. It has been so stressful for me. I’ve read it oodles of times that what others think or say about me is none of my business. Well, that sounds all cute but how I feel in reaction to others doing this causes such inner turmoil. I don’t trust people when I see them do this. I isolate at work though I do my job and feel so fake when I have to interact with them. I feel especially phony and inauthentic when I’ve heard them say crappy things about others and have gathered they’ve done it to me too and then feel I must carry on like it never happened. What am I missing?? I don’t see how others carry on all smiles and chipper when this goes on all the time. I’d like to let the stuff just roll off my back, but it doesn’t. I’m sensitive to it. Can you please shine some light on this for me? I’m tired of living this way but have yet to find a solution.

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A big chunk of our life is spent at work so if something or someone there is affecting us, it has a knock-on effect on our well-being. I hear from people who become so overwhelmed by stressful situations at work that they for example, lose their sex drive, have stress-related illnesses, lose their confidence, or withdraw into themselves, to name but a few examples.

Office politics is very stressful if you’re a sensitive person who values integrity. Gossip, which is talking about other people’s business or speculating about people even if what’s being said isn’t truthful or fair, is something that we’ve all been guilty of to greater or lesser degrees but when it’s chronic, as in a person or group of people habitually gossip without regard for boundaries, courtesy, and in the workplace, professionalism, it takes its toll and affects morale.

Backstabbing is a relative of gossip and it’s what happens when someone pretends to be your friend or to at least be cool with you and then runs their mouth off when your back is turned.

Where was the last place that you spent a significant portion of your week at, that became a critical part of how you self-identified? Yep, that would be school.

Big time gossips and backstabbers are the ones who never grew out of it. Work is an extension of school where they get to be in a gang and play out various unresolved issues through passive aggressive and aggressive behaviour. They get to feel like a big fish in a small pond and it’s a distraction from their hidden insecurities and also from anything else that they’re avoiding in their personal life. It’s their way of feeling in pseudo control.

If you were the target of gossips at school or had experiences of being frozen out, or you were bullied, or you wanted to be in the cool gang but were looked down upon, or have a number of experiences of friendships gone wrong or befriending people who you have to pretend to be something you’re not with, odds are that you will find being around people like your co-workers, increasingly triggering and painful. You might be aware of what might make you extra sensitive to this situation or you might never have made the link between what you’re feeling now and what happened back then.

You’re only human and that means that you want to be accepted and you fear rejection, even if it’s by people that you’re not that keen on. Sure, we’d all like to say that we don’t give a rat’s when people dislike or criticise us but the reality is, it does bother us although how much it does is down to our self-image and the way that we internalise other people’s opinions.

Facts established: These people are gossips, they’re indiscriminate about it and no one, including their own gang, is exempt from it.

You are not the only person who’s figured out your co-workers–everyone else isn’t renting out the majority of the space in the minds to these people. They actively choose their responses even if their instinctive response is to initially feel injured. They consciously choose the thoughts and opinions that lead to inner peace.

Your co-worker’s behaviour is annoying and even harmful to employee morale but why is what they’re doing personalised to such a degree? You don’t need to try to appease them and it doesn’t matter how much you’ve tried to stay below the radar–these people always have something to say. Why are you trying to control the uncontrollable?

It sounds as if you’re stressed out by the knowledge and judgement of them being gossips rather than actual content. You may not know what’s been said but knowing that they’re gossips means that you’re obsessing on the surety that they must have put their claws into you. Isn’t it a lot of unnecessary stress to spend your days anticipating and imagining that you’re being talked about?

It’s you destroying your inner peace, not them. You have to make conscious choices about how you deal with them internally and externally.

Address why you’re sensitive to it. Get a sheet a paper and write down any memories and negative associations you have with being talked about and friendship. Anything that still brings up emotions for you, is where you’re carrying an emotional charge that’s getting poked at by working with these people. This gives you a jump-off point for healing these old wounds including forgiving your younger self, reframing the experiences, and even talking them through with a counselor or trusted person.

Instead of stewing in annoyance, what can you say to you each time thoughts of them pop into your head? What can you do differently?

The universe is forcing you to heed the lesson–you hiding out isn’t going to change anything. People are gonna say what they’re gonna say and think what they’re gonna think so it’s time to get on with the business of living. Instead of isolating you, which undoubtedly affects your output and your perception of your capabilities and the job itself, start showing up in small ways.

What do you gain from holding on to a position that’s hurting you? Be honest with you about why you have been in your job “too long”–my spidey senses tell me that obsessing about your co-workers is a distraction from facing feelings, thoughts and decisions about your job situation. If this means meeting with a careers or financial advisor, or finding out about what your options are for development or even movement with the company, so be it.

You are judging these people based on your own moral outlook. You don’t have to agree with their behaviour but accept them for who they are instead of stressing out your brain as to why they’re not as you would prefer. Their values differ, they’re not your cup of tea, this is OK.

You are not a “phony” when you interact with them; you are being professional and courteous. No need to avoid them–just be civil as and when needed. I feel uncomfortable around gossips and the trick I learned was to keep it light, don’t divulge your private life to them, and never show that you actually care about their opinion. You don’t need to join in on gossip and you don’t even need to judge them; judge the situation and recognise that they are the group of people that most companies have– believe me when I say that unless you work in a company where there’s only a couple of you, you will never escape gossipers. Wide berth them and find the people in your company who you do get on with.

Your thoughts?

Each Wednesday, I help a reader to solve a dilemma. To submit a question, please email natalie AT baggagereclaim.com with ‘Advice Wednesday’ in the subject line. If you would prefer your question to be featured on the podcast, drop a line to podcast AT baggagereclaim.com. Keep questions below 200 words. If you want detailed one-to-one support, please use my consultation service.

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