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  • Writer's pictureDr. Neal Nybo

Micro-Action 6: Excuse yourself from the gossip

Welcome to another excerpt from my workbook, Workplace Positivity.

Creating an exit plan for our phone conversations is one thing. But when we’re

sitting in the breakroom or out for drinks with our colleagues, it’s a whole other


I was new to town when I went out for lunch with a few friends. I had told them

ahead of time I wanted to get to know people on my own. I didn’t want them to give

me the backstory of the people in our small community.

Why? I’ve found people often have prejudices they don’t even recognize. The

local realtor may have broken the heart of the widowed contractor and now the

entire town thinks she’s a heartless gold digger. I don’t want to know that. I want to

give everyone the benefit of the doubt and figure it out on my own.

There we were at lunch when a woman walked up to our table. After briefly introducing herself, she started talking about the latest gossip involving a doctor in our

town. I was in a tough spot. I didn’t want this woman to think I was rude, but I also

didn’t want to hear what she was saying.

It was time to put my exit plan into action. I pushed back my chair and said,

“Would you excuse me for just a moment?” I stood up and went to the bathroom.

When I came out she was still there, so I busied myself getting more napkins and

straws from the soda fountain. Eventually, she walked away and I returned to my


My friends were mortified. They knew exactly why I got up, even though the

woman talking did not. They started gushing apologies which I swatted off. “This

has nothing to do with you. I didn’t expect you to do anything. I have an exit plan

for these exact situations.”

The funny thing is, several months later the woman who was gossiping approached

both of my friends and apologized. She said she realized her conversation wasn’t very

kind and she didn’t want to be seen as that sort of person.

We don’t need to judge people about what they are saying. We simply need to

know how we’re going to keep from joining in. If your breakroom is a cesspool of

negativity, eat lunch at your desk. Go to the bathroom. Take a sudden interest in the

coffee maker. Spill your water on the floor.

Or be honest. Tell your friends, family and co-workers that you’re making a

concerted effort to have more positive interchanges. Tell them you’re not the gossip

police and you aren’t bothered by what they want to talk about, but you’re on a

journey to live in a more mentally positive place and it starts with the words you

allow to come out of your mouth.

Create an exit plan and have it ready.


Nicole’s example of excusing herself, and getting straws and napkins, is a powerful example

of what New York Times bestselling author, James Clear, calls an atomic habit.

It is a small habit that makes an enormous difference. Like a motivational micro-action, atomic habits are practices that aren’t so big that we won’t actually do them. Imagine if Nicole’s exit strategy when it comes to gossip was to say the best defense is a good offense, in other words, confront and correct the guilty party. How often do you think she would actually do that? And, would it help or hinder her effort to be kind? Would she have confronted a stranger like the woman in her story? Probably not.

By making our exit strategies as small, simple, and inconsequential as possible, we

increase our chances of following through on them and decrease our chance of compounding

the problem in our effort to avoid it.

Can you think of someone who would benefit from this article?

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1 Comment

Carolyn Keefer
Carolyn Keefer
Aug 24, 2023

Great article and good solutions when you faced with these conversations. Thank you!

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