When I was in residency, it seemed like every day was a chance to talk smack about other people. Any time I'd get in a private space with another resident, we'd immediately go at it: what residents were slackers, what attendings were assholes, what med students were annoying and we hoped they wouldn't match here.
And then in fellowship, it was even worse. There were three other fellows, and sometimes I would just waste an entire afternoon with each of them coming into my office one by one to diss on everyone else. (I had a great education.)
When I got to the real world of work, I told myself I would not do that anymore. It's one thing to gossip when you're still a trainee, but I felt that it was unprofessional to do so as an attending.
And you know what? I have stuck to that. I make a point to never, ever say anything negative about my coworkers behind their backs.
That said, sometimes people will say negative things to me about coworkers. My response is generally to say one sentence to defend them, then if that doesn't work, just nod my head politely. For example, I had the following conversation:
Attending: "The Dr. Smith is so lazy. I asked him to see this patient and he said that he was off duty. But it's only 4 o'clock!"
Me: "Well, maybe he had to leave to pick up his kids on time."
Attending: "That is such bullshit! I have kids too and I'm still here!"
Me: [nods politely]
I really, really hate the idea of saying anything negative about a coworker. I haven't done it in so long, the idea just sits badly with me. But you know what bothers me most about it? There are a few people who are always insulting coworkers to me, and I just KNOW that they must be insulting me to others. Because why would I be the exception? I'm not that great.