Workplace gossip, it seems so harmless. The conversation at the water cooler about someone’s relationship with someone else. The speculation about someone’s plans to stay with the company or leave.
Is it just conversation or is it gossip?
The difference between typical workplace conversation and gossip is important, because out of control gossip can be dangerous and destructive.
“Gossip” means different things to different people. To some, it refers only to spreading untrue information, while others think it involves any talk of a person’s affairs, whether personal or professional.
In reality, your garden-variety water cooler conversations are to be expected and some would argue are helpful to a workplace.
The Gossip we’re going to describe crosses the line from innocuous conversation to something potentially hurtful, harmful or slanderous.
Gossipers come in many varieties:
- Classic Gossips – Dish about trivial personal/social information. They ride the fine line between harmless water cooler conversation and creating damage in their wake. Many times they don’t even realize they have crossed the line. It is important to check yourself and stay on the side of colorful conversation and not damaging gossip. It likely will come back to bite you.
- Uncontrollable Gossips – Constantly talk about everybody they know, inside and outside the workplace. We all know people who spew verbal diarrhea just to hear themselves speak. They waste our time and create doubt in others who correctly wonder, “If they speak this way about everyone else, what are they saying about me when I’m not present?”
- Malicious Gossips – They intentionally and thoughtfully discredit people to move their personal agenda forward. This person is dangerous and must be shut down. Not only for yourself and your reputation, but for the benefit of everyone else in your workplace.
- Malicious Gossips are typically unaware, or simply do not care, that their behavior creates doubt about their trustworthiness. They become accustomed to brokering information in exchange for popularity or power and fail to realize that their own reputation has become tarnished.
We once worked with a woman who was a Malicious Gossip. Her method of operation was to tear people down to set herself up as the only person who could step in to save the day or get the job done. It was a sick personal agenda that left an enormous wake of destruction.
You knew you were in for an earful when she would lean in, lower her voice and say, “confidentially…” and then begin to critique someone’s work when there was nothing wrong with it.
Her method actually worked for a while, that is until everyone figured out what was going on. With so many people burned by her malicious gossip, everyone avoided her at all costs. When the collective group stopped engaging, she found herself on Isolation Island and lost much of her power to manipulate.
Dangers of gossip
Gossip is a dangerous activity to engage in. It erodes trust, creates inefficiencies and increases anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact.
Gossip also creates unnecessary divisiveness among employees as people take sides. We should all be working towards the goals of the organization and not fighting a gossip war created in the shadows.
Uncontrolled gossip causes attrition – as we witnessed first-hand in our example above. Good employees leave because the work environment is unhealthy.
What you can do to shut down The Gossip
In order for The Gossips to have the power of spreading rumors or misinformation, they need to have someone willing to listen. Take that power away by not engaging and never help them in their agenda by passing along what was shared with you. Let others know that you refuse to participate and why. You will likely find like-minded teammates who want to join you.
If you are the victim of gossip, take the high road and never fight gossip with gossip.
Don’t fear it; face it.
- Think it through. You don’t want to overact. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague to help you sort through the gravity of the situation and if it needs to be addressed or left to fizzle out.
- Address it. Approach The Gossip politely but firmly expressing your displeasure. Communicate that, “If you would not be saying that about me in my presence, then it should be avoided.”
- Report it. If The Gossip doesn’t stop after you’ve addressed it with him or her, document it and report it.
Working together we can neutralize workplace gossip and its damaging effects. Set the standard in your workplace and lead by example – don’t gossip yourself and use strategies to shut down those that do.
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