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How To Handle Co-workers Who Share Other Co-worker's News

You're eating lunch with a co-worker who reveals something very private about another co-worker.

This co-worker isn't spreading false gossip; in this case, the news is true. It's just that the colleague who is the subject of the gossip didn't get to share the news themselves, and on their own timeline.

Thanks in part to social media, we're losing the ability to see the difference between the news that is ours to share, and the news that is not our news to share. It's how we get the co-worker who gives us a verbal breaking news alert about another colleague before they've had a chance to tell us themselves, in their own words, and in their own time (and sometimes, that time might have been never).

Hey, I got the promotion! Why don't you look surprised?

Think of it as the in-person workplace version of the mother-in-law who announces her daughter-in-law's pregnancy on social media before daughter-in-law gets to announce it herself. Or the "friend" who scribbles "Happy 50th birthday!" on the Facebook feed of someone who doesn't celebrate birthdays in general, much less on Facebook.

As a cringing onlooker, you feel badly for these friends who have just lost control over their own plot line. Likewise, it can be a disconcerting feeling to learn something about a work colleague that she hasn't yet told you herself. For example, she hasn't already told you that she's pregnant (but now you know), or that she's leaving the company (but now you know), or that she's turning 50 (but she looks so much younger!)

It's not like you were seeking out this information, though; it was dropped into your lap! Unfortunately, the more you know, the more you wish you didn't know, if you know what I mean.

So what can you do when you suddenly feel like you know more than you should about a fellow co-worker? Here are five tips for dealing with a verbal status update about a colleague that feels like it's been shared out of turn:

1. Look shocked. Because you are. Did my co-worker really just share something this private about another colleague? Yes, it happened and you can't put the horse back in the barn. Don't be afraid to look mortified, because our facial expressions can say a thousand words.

2. Be the group's conscience. A well-placed "Wow, I hope she's okay with the rest of us knowing about this" might make this co-worker realize they've just shared news that isn't theirs to share. If you're lucky, then this co-worker will be more mindful about what they share in the future -- at least around you.

3. Keep it to yourself. You can't keep your co-workers from spreading gossip once it's "out there," but you can refuse to do it. This buck stops at your lips; you're not going to tell anyone else. Good for you. Treat others in this situation how you would hope to be treated yourself.

4. Become an ardent self-editor. You've just seen up close and personal what happens when things are shared out of turn at work, so don't share anything you wouldn't want passed to the back of the office by noon. If they do it to others, then they'll do it to you.

5. Get busier. Minimize your interactions with co-workers who tend to brazenly share other colleague's status updates before they get the chance to share them with everyone. When you're around them, refer to Tip #4.

Should you ever tell a co-worker what you've learned about them over lunch? It's a very tough question to answer in a macro context, because it requires a good understanding of the specific colleague in question. In general, it's best to keep it to yourself, focus on the work and keep things very professional.

If you want to help a co-worker whom you've learned is quietly in crisis, look for small ways to lend a helping hand. Offer to cover for them while they take a short break once in awhile. Surprise them on occasion with their favorite (complimentary, it goes without saying) coffee drink when you return from your coffee run. The little things matter. Life is all about decisions, so make the personal decision to have this co-worker's bad back.

Someday, your good deeds will come back to you when you most need it. In the meantime, let's make sure that the news we share at work is, in fact, our own news to share. In the social media age, it's getting harder to know the difference.


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