03/13/2013 02:02 pm ET Updated May 13, 2013

Gossip -- Hotbeds Of Hearsay

Gossip is probably the way most news spreads through your office, and you really do want to be on that grapevine. Most people tend to think of gossip as coming in only one flavor: malicious. It's just not true. Really, anything that doesn't come directly from the source, or isn't "officially" pronounced is considered gossip. Gossip can be anything from where Dominique got that fabulous deal on her cool shearling coat to buzz about the company relocating to Montana.

Gossip can help you prepare for what would have been an ugly surprise, like the time I tipped off the editor-in-chief of Eating Well was going to be folded by the parent company. And if you find out through the grapevine that the COO was squeezed out for attacking the CEO, you'll be less likely to tell the CEO when you run into her in the elevator what a great loss it was that he left the company.

In other words, it's that gossip that will keep you in the know and on your toes. Here's how to manage unofficial office communications:

Be a Bystander. If what you hear is primarily personal dirt as the rumor mill spins, it's best to be very busy at those moments when the worst blood is being spilled. If you do happen to hear some exceedingly damaging stuff, don't repeat it. Repeat: Don't repeat!
Give to Take. In gossip culture, you must supply tidbits as well as digest them or most people will eventually stop feeding you anything. Keep an ear to the ground for innocuous morsels that are work-related, and pass them around strategically to a small group of reliable sources who are in a position to return the favor. Don't blab everything you hear to everybody, otherwise, the word about you will be that you are an indiscrete gossipmonger.
Avoid Temptation. If someone confides in you with a particularly important piece of information, like the fact that they must fire someone you know, don't use it as currency in the gossip market. Keep it TO YOURSELF. Discretion builds friends for life. Nothing busts trust like a betrayal in favor of a cheap gossip thrill spill. I once told a colleague that I might fire a subordinate. The colleague immediately told the subordinate the bad news. Tides changed and I didn't need to let that subordinate go after all, but I never told the blabbing colleague so much as the time, let alone anything important, ever again.
Grains of Salt. Never confuse gossip with Gospel. Listen and consider carefully before you repeat or take any action. Even if the gossip is benign information, it could still be incorrect, and repeating it could make you look foolish. Assume what you hear is true and brace yourself accordingly, but sit on it. Some gossip might make you nervous, such as impending layoffs, and you will be tempted to discuss it to calm yourself. Resist the urge, work on your resume instead, girlfriend.
Playing Post-office. Remember that anything you say to anybody about anything will be repeated and attributed to Y-O-U. As you are chatting, keep in mind that what you say might be taken out of context later, and you will probably be misquoted.