Gossip is as old as mankind, and if you have drama in the workplace – you more than likely have gossip. They can be found in nearly every workplace, these conspiratorial conversations that are more often than not unverified, unsubstantiated, and occasionally unseemly. It can be the type of chatter that can appear, at face value, as harmless speculation or good-natured teasing, but if left unchecked, has the potential to severely impact your ability to generate positive business results. Leaders need to recognize that gossip can have a profound effect on their bottom line, and that not having a strategy to handle it could be a recipe for disaster.
It may sound like a harmless, unavoidable by-product of corporate life, but left unchecked, gossip can wreak havoc on company morale and efficiency. A negative work environment is a less productive work environment. Gossip can create an uncomfortable atmosphere – not only for the person the gossip is about, but for everyone in the workplace.
Gossip can often become likened to the old childhood game of “Telephone”, where one person starts the spread of information, and by the time it reaches the last person, it has evolved and changed into something entirely different. Some gossip may have truth to it, while other information carried on the gossip relay may be false. Either way, gossip is a harmful means of communication and should be avoided.
Here are just a few destructive results of gossip in the workplace:
- Wasted time and lost productivity
- Severe erosion of trust and morale
- Hurt feelings and the possibility of reprisals
- Miscommunication leading to conflict, missed opportunities or misinformation
- Heightened fear or falsely raised expectations
- A “toxic” work environment
Now that you understand the serious impact that gossip can have, what can you do about it? First, you need to understand that you are not likely to completely eliminate it. However, you also need to understand that how an organization deals with habitual gossip can be mean the difference between growing and thriving… or disintegrating from within. Understanding the effect it has on achieving your organization’s goals and objectives, your goal should be to limit gossip to the greatest extent possible. Below are some tips for controlling gossip in the workplace:
Establish Consequences: Include a policy regarding gossip in the employee handbook that clearly defines the organization’s stance on gossip and the ramifications it has for the company. It should also detail the consequences to employees who consistently participate in this type of behavior.
Improve Communication: Develop an internal communications plan. Communicate regularly with employees regarding happenings within your organization. Gossip tends to occur when there is a vacuum of information. In the absence of official information, people speculate or circulate rumors. By keeping everyone better informed and being more open about workplace issues, you can remove the need to create false information to fill the information gap. After all, gossip doesn’t tend to go very far if the answer to “Have you heard the latest?” is always “Yes, I have”.
Be Responsible And Responsive: Gossip cannot exist without someone to tell it to. Explain to your employees that if they are not the person who is being spoken about and they are listening… they are participating in gossip. You need to make it clear that even listening to gossip is a bad idea.
Promote Group Discussions: Incorporate employee driven group discussions and expectations about gossiping. This gives employees permission to hold each other mutually accountable for having a “gossip-free” workplace.
Be Proactive: Tell the offender that you are aware of his behavior. Describe how it results in others not trusting him. Incorporate the impact the behavior has had on others, and that it will impact his performance evaluation. For some, this will result in immediate change.
Go On The Offensive: Confront the person that is gossiping. Ask them why they believe this information should be spread and what personal gain they will derive from it. Often the best defense against workplace gossip is a strong offense. Tell the gossip that you are calling in the person the gossip is about to clarify the information… and do it while they are sitting there! This is a sure way to stop gossip in its track, because most gossips tend to shy away from the prospect of repeating their rumors directly to the subject.
It is important for gossipers to realize the toxic effect gossip has on themselves, their coworkers, and the organization as a whole. When they stop, it means that the team has taken on being forthright and honest in its communication, dealing head-on with an issue through the person who can do something about it. This allows for teamwork, trust, communication—and therefore extraordinary results.
What Are You Doing To Ensure Gossip Doesn’t Sabotage Your Organization?
Please engage the discussion and let us know how gossip affects your organization. Feel free to contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next week for the next post on Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.