Down Workplace Gossip
By Robert Bacal
Workplace gossip is a serious issue. While many of us participate in the gossip pipeline (often without really thinking about it), workplace gossip can be exceedingly damaging both to individuals and the company in general. Here are some of the destructive results of gossip in the workplace:
These are serious outcomes. Gossip can and should be dealt with from at least two ďangles.Ē Management staff can play a role in facing down workplace gossip, as can individual employees. When both management and employees actively try to cut down the gossip, the results can be surprisingly positive.
For Managers and Supervisors
Managers and supervisors can ďtake on gossipĒ in a number of ways.
First, when people approach you with gossip to share, make it clear that you arenít interested in hearing it. Hereís a sample response: ďI donít think itís productive or fair to talk about people like this when they arenít present. So if we canít talk about something else, then I have to get back to work.Ē
Second, make it clear to staff that gossip is not appropriate in your department. You can do this at staff meetings through firm but gentle ďannouncements.Ē Explain the damage that can be done through gossip. However, you need to walk the talk. If you want gossip to stop, you must stop participating in it.
Third, improve communication about workplace issues. Gossip (or sometimes grapevine information) tends to occur when there is a vacuum of information. In the absence of official information, people speculate, or circulate rumors. By keeping staff better informed and being more open about workplace issues, you can remove the need to create false information to fill the information gap.
Finally, if you identify one or two people who are at the forefront of the gossip-mill, you may need to talk to them individually, and privately. Explain the damage and problems caused. Explain that while spreading gossip seems harmless, eventually the gossips themselves will become victims of it. If the problem continues, you may need to make this a performance issue, since it can affect productivity, and team cohesiveness and effectiveness.
Believe it or not, employees can exert a strong anti-gossip force in the workplace. Gossip can be reduced if even a small number of employees decide to face it down.
As with managers, the main tool here is to ďnot play.Ē Gossips thrive on people willing to listen to the gossip. Cut off the listening, and participation of others, and the gossip drops. You can indicate you do not want to deal with gossip, and that you will remove yourself from situations where gossip occurs. You may find that doing so will bring out other ďanti-gossipersĒ who will follow your lead. Hereís an example of what to say: ďI donít want to rain on the parade, but Iím not comfortable with this conversation. Iíd rather not hear whoís doing what to whom, since we donít know the facts. So, if you guys want to talk about this, I think Iíll just move on and do something else.Ē
Notice that this isnít an attack on the gossips, but a straight expression of personal preference. If people challenge you on this statement, donít argue. Youíve said your piece and there is no need to explain beyond that point. Donít lecture, and donít berate. Just move on.
If you have a concern about gossip, consider talking to your manager or supervisor about it. Often management may not be aware it is taking place, particularly if they are ďout of the gossip loop.Ē Explain the situation generally (donít gossip yourself), without mentioning specific people. Ask if the manager might be able to step in or remind people of the destructiveness of gossip. Donít wait until you become the gossip victim. If you feel there is too much gossip going around, your concern will be much more credible if you donít wait until it affects you directly.
|"Gossip is destructive whether you are the target, or whether someone you donít like is the target."|
Facing down gossip is a surprisingly straightforward process, and itís an area where individuals can accomplish a great deal on their own. Remember that even people who engage in gossip (perhaps out of habit) know itís a bad thing. They may respond positively to a reminder, whether it comes from a manager or an employee. And above all, keep the following in mind. In high gossip workplaces, eventually, everyone will be the subject of gossip. Perhaps this week itís Fred, and next week itís Ann, but sooner or later, it IS going to get around to YOU.
Robert Bacal is the publisher of the www.Work911.com newsletter and CEO of Bacal Associates and Work911. His website, www.work911.com, contains hundreds of resources and articles on workplace subjects such as career success, change management, productivity improvement, conflict management, customer service, dealing with difficult people, interpersonal communication and workplace humor. The preceding article is © 2003 Robert Bacal.
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