I work in a purchasing department. There are 15 of us who work in the department. We all get along usually -- that is, when everybody is there.

However, when a person is gone, the others in the department jump at the opportunity to criticize the coworker behind his back.

I find myself facing a dilemma. I could pretend that I agree with whatever is being said by the others, but I don't want to be a hypocrite. Or I could just stay out of such discussions altogether.

If I stay out of the discussions, however, then the rest of the group would pick on me that much more.

It has been hard for me to find a middle ground, and I feel the stress of the situation building. Should I talk about my problem with our boss or just ignore the gossiping?

By no means talk to the boss! A gossipy group will go on gossiping, no matter what you do, and involving others will just make a mountain out of a molehill.

Stay out of the fray and mind your own business.

If, as a result, the group will gossip more about you, so what? It won't hurt you, and eventually they are bound to tire of you as a subject.

Andrew Grove is the president of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., author of the books "High Output Management and "One-on-One with Andy Grove," and a frequent lecturer on management. Please send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif., 95190.