Shhhh…Don’t tell anyone, but…
Can you keep a secret? It starts out innocently enough, but malicious gossip doesn’t just occur among the rank and file of your organization. Executives too often play a role. Yes, the very people who should be setting the example. You would think people at this level would know better, and they do, but for some reason, gossip seems irresistible.
It’s No Secret - Why We Gossip
It’s almost in our DNA. Picture a group of prehistoric hunters surveying the downing of a mastodon and gossiping about Fred who didn’t hold up his end of the hunt. Humans have been gossiping as long as we’ve been communicating. Men do gossip, they just call it “shooting the breeze.” An article in psychology today offers that women may gossip more simply because they communicate more. However, I’ve seen a group of men who could put any woman to shame when it comes to gossip. Even though it may hurt someone’s reputation, we continue to do it. Why? According to the experts, it can be for any number of reasons:
- It’s a way of bonding
- The selling of celebrity gossip is a multi-million dollar industry. A celebrity might lead a glamourous life, but we are better than them because we are not alcoholics, or are not perverts, or we obey the rules.
- We want to be in the loop and part of the “in crowd.”
- Often gossip can surface because we are hurt, angry, or bored.
- Some people may gossip because they want attention.
I know I can Trust You about the Effects of Gossip
The list can probably go on and on. While we may think that most gossip is harmless, it can have a devastating effect in your organization. Malicious gossip can
- Hurt and even ruin relationships
- Create distrust
- Reduce productivity
- Create stress which in turn can lead to absenteeism and health issues
- Destroy teamwork
- Lead to high turnover
- Reduce employee engagement
- Create expensive legal hassles
You’re The Only Person I’m Telling This To - How to Stop Gossip
How can you, as the leader of your organization put a stop to something that can affect morale, productivity, and the bottom line?
- Encourage positive gossip
- Don’t participate in gossip. According to Alison Poulsen, Ph.D. http://goo.gl/VqjBws you can say things like:
- “I notice that you talk about Jane a lot. I’m curious why [does] she interest you so much?”
- “Let’s take a look at it from Jane’s side.”
- “I am more interested in what you are up to.”
- “Let’s talk about something more positive or decide what we’re going to do this afternoon.”
- “I feel uncomfortable listening to negative judgments about people unless we figure out how to help them.”
- Meet with the gossiper in private and address the situation. Help them to understand the impact negative gossip can create. Document the meeting. If it continues disciplinary action should be taken.
- Next, meet with your entire team and ensure that everyone knows, that engaging in negative gossip can lead to unpleasant consequences, both for each of them and for the organization. Be clear that it will not be tolerated. Do not send out blanket edicts via email – this is rarely, if ever, effective. Unless you address the individual(s) one on one, they will never get the idea that the email is being directed at them.
- Do create safe environments for employees to vent.
While it may be an almost natural element of human behavior, malicious gossip can create real trouble for your organization. Making excuses for it, or allowing sacred cows to infect your company’s morale, or just ignoring it will not do you or your bottom line any favors. Act quickly, confidently, and deal with this infection directly. I’m only telling you this because I know it won’t go any further.
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