Gossip in the Workplace: What Can We Do About It?

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Gossip. It’s everywhere. It’s harmful, yet nearly everyone participates in it at some time or another.

[callout]A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.[biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 16:28″][/callout]

Gossip can be defined as idle talk,* or talking negatively behind someone’s back, to someone who is not part of the problem or solution, or with no desire to improve the situation. Gossip is a damaging cancer on your team, and must be dealt with effectively. Here are some suggestions.

Create a positive culture. See to it that positive team players are recognized and rewarded appropriately. Be careful not to overdo as this can create temptation for people to “play games” to be noticed. Watch for sincere teamwork and praise accordingly, sometimes privately.

Provide appropriate information. Gossip sometimes prevails when employees are left in the dark. Share what information you can, even if it is disappointing. Exercise discretion when you have to, particularly with personnel matters, but don’t hide information that can help your team know what is coming, what obstacles need to be overcome, or what were the real facts behind a rumor.

Don’t brand someone a “gossip.” Remember that just because a person may occasionally gossip, does not mean they are a bad team player overall. Even the best people can get sucked into gossip during a time of fatigue, confusion or frustration. Yes, there are some who struggle with this habitually. But while some may struggle with gossip, others may struggle with laziness or fear. All can affect productivity and team play…so be careful not to elevate one team “sin” over another.

Be aware of the gossips. Now I’m going to appear to contradict what I just said. While you should avoid labeling people, you can be attuned to tendencies in individuals. You will quickly figure out the talkers on your team. Develop a strategy to help them grow.

Get to the bottom of it. When you become aware of gossip, gently confront the individuals involved. For example, let’s say you are picking up on negative conversation about Susie, particularly from Jay and Melissa. Pull Jay and Melissa aside with a question like, “I’m sensing that you have some concerns about Susie. I’d like to get to the bottom of the issue so tell me the top two things you struggle with.” Notice that I suggest asking a specific question so that puts the gossips on the spot. Don’t make it easy for them to say, “No, we don’t have any problem with her.”

Accompany people. If someone comes to you with a complaint, offer to go with them to the individual involved. This will either stop them from complaining to you, or give them the courage to deal with the problem.

Ask questions. If someone gossips to you, ask, “Why are you telling ME this? Would you like me to go with you to that person?” “What do you think would be a good way to solve this?” “How do you think Susie may see this?”

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Create an open environment. As you work with your team and develop trust, encourage them to share how they feel about certain situations and be able to give/receive constructive feedback. If team members feel they can talk out their issues with each other, they will find less need to gossip behind someone’s back.

Some companies have a “zero-tolerance” for gossip, with employees knowing they could be fired for participating. This may be appropriate in some cultures. At the very least, use the suggestions above to root out this destructive element in your workplace.

*gossip. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gossip (accessed: August 15, 2014).

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