Ask Your Jewish Fairy Godmother
Coping with a Gossipy Office
Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother,
I work at a very gossipy company. I'm a private person and don't want my personal life known to my co-workers. I'd appreciate words of wisdom for avoiding the rumor mill without coming off as a total beyotch.
People tend to isolate and bear a grudge (overt or subliminal) against those who reject their social overtures. That’s probably as true in a synagogue as in an office, but either way, those who don’t seem social get a reputation of not playing well with others. That may be fine for your personal life, but recognize that it could affect your climb up the corporate ladder too. People want to be able to share what they did on the weekend, their hobbies and vacations, and their home lives, whether that’s kids or remodeling. The common pool of non-work experiences has enormous team-building value.
Share A Few Things
Rather than a global, and off-putting, “I don’t talk about my life,” perhaps you can share a few things. Keep in mind that any time there’s a wall, there’s an almost reflexive desire to look over it. If you adamantly refuse to say anything, you are likely to send the whole department straight to Google from sheer curiosity.
I’m not a fan of closeting one’s life, but I believe everyone has the right to decide what’s public and what’s private. Once you know where that boundary is, consider a few simple PR bullets: “My partner and I have agreed that we won’t talk about our relationship with our friends.” That may create curiosity but gets you past some details. Then you can say: I have a dog/cat/goldfish. I love to quilt/play piano/read novels. I jog/swim/play tennis. Or whatever your personal details may be that are innocuous enough to offer up. This helps you steer the conversation in a direction that is comfortable for you.
Maybe you actually have something you want to hide from your colleagues and are morally elastic about truth and lies. If you really want to fly below the radar and don’t want to disclose, keep to that rule with everyone, no exceptions. Whatever you tell one person will almost inevitably get around, and the door will be opened to further inquiry. Like the old proverb says, what two people know is no secret.
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