A Cynic's Guide: How to Deal with Office Gossip

By William Peacock, Esq. on March 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This is the firm life. Even in boom times, advancement up the ladder was a numbers game. Today? When partners are being laid off? This is Lord of the Flies, and you ain't Piggy.

Does that call for sabotage? Rumor-mongering? Back-stabbing? No. Once you're labeled a snitch, no one will trust you - even if they benefited in the past from your loose lips. That doesn't mean you can't benefit from a little office gossip, however.

UC Davis Eggheads
UC Davis Egghead Sculptures - "See No Evil/Hear No Evil"

Hear all evil. Speak no evil.

The truth is, there is little to gain from spreading office gossip. It can be difficult to remain silent - we all like joking about the guy who shows up at noon and leaves at 2 pm, after all - but what's the upside? (Okay - you can mock him. Everyone mocks him.)

Instead, it's probably better to receive gossip than to give gossip. Keep secrets and your fellow associates will trust you. And of course, a cynical individual might also point out the benefits of inside information.

Remember all evil. Speak no evil.

When Jimmy gets fired because he left state-law fraud counts off of the complaint, you won't be surprised. You'll be the one who has volunteered to file the amended complaint and positioned yourself to get his senior spot because you knew about the screw-up a week before anyone else.

Jane is about to bring in a class-action laced nutritional supplement case. She's rain-making while you're toiling away fixing Jimmy's failure. Fortunately, you know about it ahead of time and can volunteer to help her with preparing the case or in finding additional clients, causes of action, or other defective products by the same company.

Does that sound cold, manipulative, and somewhat Machiavellian? Maybe. You might insist that you're just being helpful.

Speak no evil. Earn their trust.

Build a reputation as someone people can trust, someone who actively listens and provides valuable advice and insight, and someone who volunteers to pick up others' slack. Doing so will demonstrate value to coworkers and bosses.

After all, if you're not spreading lies and gossip, and are merely benefiting from being trustworthy, it's not wrong - is it?

This is the reality of firm life. How many associates are there in your office? How many do you think will stick around and become senior associates? How many will make partner?

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