Years ago, I worked with a woman (whom I’ll call Linda) who boldly told coworkers she was a Christian. With one eyebrow raised, she would lean forward at the lunch table, invading your personal space as she spoke. She would say, “Sharing my faith at work isn’t just something I like to do; it’s who I am.”
Sadly, there was one more thing Linda shared with equal zeal—gossip. Be it the latest details of why someone was fired or the tragic events that led to a neighbor’s suicide, Linda always seemed to be in the know about everyone and everything except her own loose tongue. No one at work seemed interested in Linda’s brand of faith. Instead of making a “case for Christ,” she became an example of Christian hypocrisy.
If we ever desire to become reflections of Christ at work, the first thing we may need to consider is our words. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
Scripture is peppered with admonitions to bridle our speech. Despite these warnings, others have touted the false notion that a little bit of gossip at work can be a good thing.
Call It What It Is
"There has been a tendency to denigrate gossip as sloppy and unreliable," said David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at the State University of New York. "But gossip appears to be a very sophisticated, multifunctional interaction which is important in policing behaviors in a group and defining group membership."
Nonsense. Who would wish to be constrained more by the fear and rumor mill over clearly communicated policies? Counterfeit morality created by outward pressures to conform, however multifunctional and sophisticated, cannot do the hard and permanent work of inward transformation. Call gossip what it is—evil.
In a blog post, Dr. Ray Ortlund defined gossip in the negative and explained its appeal. He writes, “Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification. Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments. It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop. It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of. It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty. Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.”
How can we be salt and light in the dark places where many of us work? We read books and attend seminars trying to glean this information. Could part of it be as simple as knowing when to keep our mouths shut? Women, who generally tend to be more verbal, have several warnings specifically addressed to them from Scripture. Paul warns young widows not to be gossips and busybodies (1 Tim. 5:13) and older women and wives of deacons not to be slanderers (1 Tim. 3:11; Titus 2:3).
How Do We Know?
But gossip can be subtle. How many have listened to gossip when a speaker framed it as a “prayer request”? How do we know when our conversations at the watercooler have turned to gossip?
Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group, LLC, a workplace consulting agency, offers some helpful questions. She writes, “Consider the impact of what is being said. Does it cast negative aspersions? Does it create rifts? Does it exult in the misfortune of others? Does it have a negative emotional charge? Does it serve to perpetuate conflict or negativity? Is it hurtful or damaging? Is it something you would say in front of that person?”
Scripture echoes these concerns:
- David described a blameless man as one “who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor” (Ps. 15:3).
- Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
- Proverbs 25:9 cautions us not to “reveal another's secret.”
- Elsewhere, Proverbs states, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise” (17:28).
What Should We Do?
How are we to respond to the Lindas in our workplace when the conversation turns to others who aren’t sitting at your table?
- Don’t participate.
Some people wouldn’t view listening to gossip on the same level as speaking it, but truly it is. Consider this: Would gossip persist if no one else seemed interested? “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov. 26:20).
- Walk away.
I remember sitting at a table when Linda vomited up her daily insider news. Another coworker abruptly left. Linda stopped talking and gave everyone a pained smile. She got the message.
- Dial direct.
Want to end gossip about another coworker? Consider this wisdom from Amy Carmichael: Talk to, not about. Tell Linda you’d like the person she is speaking of to be part of the conversation. “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret” (Prov. 25:9).
- Speak plainly.
I remain grateful to a woman who lovingly called me out when I engaged in gossip. Sometimes a direct word spoken in love is what is needed. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6).
- Pray often.
David prayed, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Ps. 141:3). Try incorporating prayers like this into your blessings before meals. You might transform the entire tone at the table.
- Team up.
Consider asking a fellow believer at work to hold you accountable for speaking gossip. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).
Finally, remember the Lindas of the world are desperately in need of mercy, just as we are. The verses that keep me up many nights are these:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37).
When I think hard on these words, I wonder, who then can be saved?
I am thankful for sobering words of the Law which cause me to flee to Christ. Jesus died for our helpless estate, and that is good news for those in despair of controlling their tongue.
What strategies do you employ in taming your tongue at work? Leave your ideas in the comments below.