Gossiping about other people, and being critical of them, is a way of finding common ground with others, and of building up intimacy as you share information that is a little bit dangerous and private.
Social scientists tell us gossip is a time honoured and popular way to increase social functioning and connection. The truth is, we all gossip, because we all talk about other people. When we say we don’t like gossip, what we really mean is that we don’t like gossip about us or people we like.
Often we think that such talk with others helps us connect and enhances the relationship – often we get positive signs from others when we do ‘share’ such information. The problem is that it is a negative common ground, and a false intimacy that deflects attention from the fact that the people involved aren’t actually sharing anything about themselves. So what are the hidden negative effects of gossip and what are some tips to limit gossip in the workplace?
The negative effects of gossip are strained relationships, mistrust, discontentment, even anger, and decreased productivity. For example, how much time have you wasted, in long conversations, complaining to others about the assistant who isn’t as helpful as he could be, or your boss that is not treating you how you would like, or how you know that that other department has a hidden agenda that conflicts with your team’s goals!
Gossip can be an addictive problem – especially in the workplace. Not only does it cause distraction, it can cause distress for the person being discussed, stress on the leadership who then has to find the source and stop the problem, and decrease productivity for the business. Here are 5 tips to stop gossip in the workplace:
Tip 1 – Know what gossip is
Friendly work banter and gossip are worlds apart. But how do you tell the difference? Consider the following:
Discussion: A friendly work discussion that talks about others keeps the references to other people general, friendly and supportive. The speaker is not obsessed with picking holes in another person’s character but is merely imparting information about what another person or people have done in a matter-of-fact way, to further an objective, work-related conversation and to enlighten the listener about work relevant information;
Gossip: Gossip tends to be talk that gains attention for the speaker. The speaker will often adopt a confidential tone and is using the information about somebody else to be the center of attention and will impart the details in a way that tries to undermine the credibility or likability of another person. The details may be given with moralising undertones and character assassination may be the top of the gossip’s agenda. Often you are told more personal details than you care to know about. The motivations behind gossip include attention-seeking, self-inflation, exaggeration and a me-versus-them mentality;
Grapevine gossip: This is gossip pertaining to general change occurring within a workplace. Someone started it and now it is running about like wildfire. Usually this happens in an uncertain environment and is fuelled by fear, poor communications from management levels and wild guesses by staff. It is less personal than gossip attacking another person but is as equally damaging and demoralising.
Tip 2 – Addressing your own behaviour first
Model the behaviour you want to see. Employees will look to you for what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable, and you need to ensure you are “walking the talk” at all times and leading by example.
If you participate in work gossip, you perpetuate it and you belittle yourself and your personal leadership brand. In particular, if you have leadership aspirations, or you are already in a position of leadership, any participation in work gossip by you will be viewed negatively and as anti-team spirited. Always ask yourself about your motivation when discussing others in a personal way within the work context; if you are talking about them to ingratiate yourself with others or to make yourself appear better, than it is likely that you are gossiping.
Tip 3 – Address the serial gossipers
Some people gossip because they enjoy it or they feel insecure about others in the workplace. Most gossipers are pure attention-seekers. Address any specific team members on a personal level by directly addressing the key gossipers one-on-one confidentially. Your goal is to help the person understand the impact of their behaviour and the consequences to the team and their personal brand by such behaviour.
Tip 4 – Create a culture that discourages gossip.
It is important that your team is aware of how gossip is treated in your workplace. Provide examples of what your workplace considers to be gossip and provide examples of how to avoid this type of negative interaction.
Promote a culture of mutual consideration and create a clause to be included in any employee guideline or codes of behaviour. Let people know that gossip is not welcomed here through conversation, charters, codes and promotional material.
Discuss the issue with your entire team. This can be done by including “gossip” as a topic for discussion in a team meeting and helping the team understand the differences between negative gossip and positive gossip and the ramifications of each. Work with your team on ideas and expectations
Tip 5 – Silence is filled with negativity – be open where possible and show the math
In times of change, setbacks and delays within the workplace you need to address workplace gossip with speed, support and honesty. In the absence of information your team will not ‘look on the bright side of life’ and head for the positive aspects of the change. During times of rapid change and uncertainty in a workplace, gossip will naturally increase due to fear and anticipated negative outcomes. It is important to realise this and to sort the fear factor from the facts. If you are a team leader, be a source of reassurance to your team by acknowledging their fears and worries. Armed with prior researched facts, tell them what you do know; equally tell them what you don’t know and do not make things up. When you don’t know something, tell them that you’ll find out. Be the rock that supports them and diverts gossip back on itself.
As a leader you should be open and honest whenever possible – show the math and explain the rationale behind your decisions. Leaders who exhibit high positive energy even in times of tough change will help to bring their team through challenging periods.
Encourage positive gossip. Positive gossip can actually be good for workplace and employees. This is when managers and employees share positive stories.
“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind” –Buddha
What are your tips to reduce gossip in the workplace?