There are two things that circulate round offices at the speed of a viral tweet. Stomach flu and office gossip.
Gossip is defined as: “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true”
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” says Eleanor Roosevelt. There is nothing more corrosive to workplace culture than office gossip. It is damaging and disruptive to individuals and teams. It impacts personal reputations and business bottom lines [Tweet “At worst it can be a source of bullying, especially if it targets one individual.”]
We are all guilty to some extent. But there is a fine line, which if crossed can become a serious problem.
There are lots of reason behind office gossip
- To power play – and assume a position of superiority. This is spiteful and Machiavellian
- To create uncertainty and under mine individuals or teams
- Jealousy – centred around looks, life-style qualification or experience, position
- Bored – hanging around the water cooler with nothing else to talk about
- Attention seeking – a need to be in the centre of attention
- Belonging – wanting to be part of the group,
- Anger – angry at the individual or group
- Unintentional thoughtlessness – sometimes a casual remark is simply about not thinking before speaking
Despite stereotyping to the contrary, recent research shows that men are more likely to break a confidence before their female colleagues. It suggests a lack of maturity, emotional insecurity and a lack of empathy.
Here are 5 tips for leading above office gossip
It is especially important if you are in any sort of leadership or managerial role, that you implement these tips as soon as you can. A normal amount of speculation and chit chat is common in any workplace – but that intangible fine line we spoke about shouldn’t be crossed.
1. Distance yourself from gossip
If the gossip is a report or a colleague, tackling those involved directly is the best course of action. Step back and distance yourself. You can even say you prefer not to get involved, or have no knowledge of the topic or people.
If the office gossip is your boss, explain that the practise is damaging team motivation using constructive communication techniques. Read Constructive communication is hard to get right by Sofie-Ann Bracke
If you see your reports doing it, make it part of a department charter to stamp it out. Solicit the support and buy-in of every individual member of your team. Pay special attention to be on the look out for the office gossip’s side kick, the office bully. If it is frequent, it can be part of a mobbing or bullying pattern. Read: Daily Habits to grow your leadership skills
2. Don’t fuel the office gossip mill
Don’t initiate any rumours and repeat and share anything you have heard. When these situations gain momentum they can ruin an individual’s career or reputation or even harm a business and your team.
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Do not go into writing
Do not send anything out via social media, Facebook and Twitter and the dreaded all company mailing list. [Tweet “This will gain momentum into an outright flaming campaign.”] Read: Flame wars the downside of ecommunication by Dorothy Dalton
Challenge the office gossip mongers
Enablers or bystanders are as guilty as the actual gossips. Ask a gossip for justification of their statements. Very often they will bluster and back down. But at least you have called them out. Don’t forget it takes years to build a reputation and minutes to tear it apart. In a culture which allows gossip to flourish, you could be the next target. Read: 10 behaviors of an emotional bully
Think before you speak
Be mindful of the comments you make whether by email or verbally. Put yourself in the recipients shoes and always consider how any comment will be received. It is hard to rebuild a damaged reputation in today’s digital world.
Office gossip and Chinese whispers damage workplace culture as well as personal reputations. [Tweet “3 words. Don’t do it!”]
What advice would you give?