askST Jobs: I overheard my colleagues disparaging my work and gossiping about me. What should I do?

When colleagues talk behind your back, take a step back to calm yourself down and then start by being honest with yourself. PHOTO: PEXELS

In this series, manpower correspondent Calvin Yang offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I overheard my colleagues disparaging my work quality and gossiping about my appearance. But they act normally in front of me. What should I do?

A: It can be difficult being the talk of the office.

Office gossip hurts morale and relations, and can be distressing when it involves untruths about you, says Ms Rupali Gupta, talent solutions leader at Mercer Singapore.

"Not only can it damage your reputation and professional opportunities, it can also be extremely stressful on a personal level."

Unfortunately, people enjoy gossip - just look at celebrity news sites, she adds. "As social beings, we crave connection and workplace gossip - when benign - can be cathartic and a way to bond with co-workers."

To be clear, when colleagues talk behind your back, it often says more about them than about you.

That said, take a step back to calm yourself down.

Adecco Singapore country manager Betul Genc says the key is to maintain composure without acting out. "Being defensive as a first step will build roadblocks and potentially cause emotional distress," she adds.

Start by being honest with yourself. Assess if there is any truth in what is shared before taking the next step.

If it is true, consider your options. This could involve making the changes on your part, for instance putting in the extra effort at work if you haven't been delivering quality work.

And you do not have to go through this alone. In the process, feel free to confide in someone you trust. Let that person know what you are going through.

And if, somehow, you decide to talk it out with the colleagues involved, acknowledge the issue and share how the gossip has affected you, say experts. Then try to move on.

If there is no truth to it, you could choose to ignore it and give it time to wear off.

Ms Rupali explains: "The more you try to justify it, the more fuel you may add to the fire. Let your actions and reality speak louder than the gossip."

Or you could address it politely and firmly to establish that you would prefer for this not to be discussed further, she adds.

Ms Genc says: "If the in-person conversation escalates and you feel overwhelmed, speak with your line manager, who can guide you with steps to remedy the situation. You are within your rights to report any gossip that may jeopardise your career, to the right person and done in a professional manner."

Some may not be comfortable talking to their supervisor, as it may seem like they are deliberately causing trouble.

Admittedly, such situations may not be straightforward as some are afraid of jeopardising their careers.

In such cases, you could talk to a trusted colleague, your HR department or even a career counsellor before deciding your next step.

While you cannot control what others say, you can certainly take charge of how you respond.

"So take a deep breath and take a step back before deciding if you want to take control of the narrative and tell your side of the story, or simply let the rumour die out," says Ms Rupali.

At the end of the day, remember that people who know you well and trust you will not be swayed by what they hear.

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