Have you ever gossiped about another employee?

It’s a question that no one wants to answer because, if you’re being absolutely honest, the response is probably yes.

And that’s a problem.

How many times has a moment of idle conversation about your day veered to what’s going on in the organization which then results in a comment about a colleague or supervisor that suddenly turns ugly; leaving you with that tiny voice in your head telling you that this conversation is wrong?

Maybe you second-guess yourself at that point and try to convince that tiny voice that it’s just harmless chitchat, it’s not really that serious, and no damage was done.

Except that you know deep down that it wasn’t harmless, and that damage was actually done because you wouldn’t like it if you were the subject of gossiping coworkers.

So, what’s actually at stake with gossip?

Well, the main damage that workplace gossiping does is to destroy trust.

For example, what if a rumour is being spread around the office that a certain person has completed an assignment or task incorrectly, would you voluntarily work with this person again? Would you trust them to do their work correctly?

This breakdown of trust can result in employees second-guessing each other, as well as an increased need to involve supervisors and managers in minor disagreements and trivial issues that should otherwise be sorted out by two fully trained adults (employees) having a conversation—or is that asking too much?

Ultimately, gossip can cause the death of productive and meaningful teamwork as groups break up into cliques and employees start refusing to work with certain co-workers.

Workplace Gossip: What Crosses the Line?

Now put yourself back into that idle conversation that has turned into gossip. Sometimes it’s not always so easy to realize when we’ve drifted into dangerous territory.

Let’s take a look at questions you can ask yourself the next time you (and your tiny voice) are unsure about what crosses the line. Consider these with regards to what’s being discussed:

  • Does it cast negative slights?
  • Does it create rifts?
  • Does it wallow in the misfortune of others?
  • Does it have a negative emotional element to it?
  • Does it serve to perpetuate conflict or negativity?
  • Is it hurtful or damaging?
  • Is it something you would say in front of that person?

Effects of Gossip in the Workplace

Having a better grasp of what can be considered gossip, I’d like to further discuss the negative effects. As mentioned earlier, trust in the workplace is at stake, but there are even more ugly consequences. Workplace gossip can be very serious, especially if the gossiper has significant power over the recipient.

Here are some more of those negative consequences of workplace gossip:

  • Erosion of trust and morale
  • Lost productivity and wasted time
  • Increased anxiety among employees as rumours circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact
  • Divisiveness among employees as people take sides
  • Hurt feelings and reputations
  • Attrition due to good employees leaving the company because of an unhealthy work environment

Managing and Getting Rid of Workplace Gossip

I bet those consequences will really make you stop and think the next time you find yourself in a poisoned conversation.

So, how do we combat this?

One of the most important things that you can do as a supervisor or manager, is to talk to your team about how to handle gossiping colleagues.

Start off by assuming that the team member is not a gossiper, but that they stayed and listened to another colleague (who is) so as not appear rude. After all, they have been taught to be a team player, right? But here’s the important issue that many people don’t realize…they are actually a participant of the gossip because active listening actually supports and promotes gossiping. After all, the more people listen, the more it’s encouraged.

Gossip relies on people to keep it alive. So, if people don’t listen, the gossip has no destination.

[bctt tweet=”Gossip relies on people to keep it alive. So, if people don’t listen, the gossip has no destination.” username=”fioretraining”]

Here are some other suggestions to help defeat this negative behaviour:

  • Tell people to be busy. Gossipers want attention, so if others are preoccupied with their work, they can’t be available to listen to someone’s latest story.
  • Tell people not to participate. Walking away from the story, without giving any visual clues that they are remotely interested in listening, will help stop the gossip in its tracks.
  • Tell people to turn it around by saying something positive. It isn’t nearly as much fun to spread negative news if it’s spoiled by a complimentary phrase about the person being attacked
  • Tell people to avoid the gossiper. If you notice one person who consistently makes trouble, take the necessary actions to have as little interaction with that person as possible.
  • Tell people to choose their friends wisely at work. We spend a great deal of our lives at work, so it’s natural for friendships to develop. Tell people to share information sparingly until they are certain that they have built up a level of trust. Also, remind them that close association with gossipers will give the perception that they are also a gossiper.
  • Tell people to be direct. If they confront the gossiper and confidently tell the other person that such behaviour is making it uncomfortable for them and their other coworkers, it’s likely to stop.
  • Tell people not to hesitate to come to you as the supervisor. Gossiping wastes a lot of time and hurts morale. Organizations that are interested in healthy work environments, should value the opportunity to correct this negative behaviour.

And to put another nail on the gossip coffin, here are three more suggestions for employers to minimize workplace gossiping:

  1. Communicate regularly and consistently with all employees. This will reduce the influence and need for gossip, as employees will be kept well-informed and ‘in the loop’ so that there is no gap in information that can be filled with gossiping staff members.
  2. Discourage gossip by including such language in your organization’s Respectful Workplace Policy and ensure that people are aware of its existence and the potential ramifications should gossip occur. The language in the policy can be tricky to craft, so organizations should focus on educating employees about the dangers of talking about co-workers behind their backs. It’s also important to work this into the broader initiative of addressing bullying, incivility, or unprofessional conduct.
  3. Take all complaints from employees seriously. It’s easy for workplace gossiping, if left unresolved, to venture into the realms of bullying, harassment, or even discrimination.

One final rule for you as a supervisor or manager:

  • Don’t get involved in gossip yourself! You must set the example of what you expect your employees to do and showing that gossiping will not be tolerated by you personally lays down a clear guideline for your team.
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What to Say to Gossipers

I think we’ve covered a great deal to get you started on your journey to battle office gossip. So, let me leave you with a few magic phrases to say to someone who wants to gossip with you:

  • “I feel uncomfortable talking about Phil since he’s not in the room. Let’s wait until he can be with us to continue this discussion.”
  • “I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss Phil this way. He isn’t here to give us his side of the story and it isn’t our place to be making up a story.”
  • “To be really honest, I dislike hearing about another person in this way; it also makes me wonder if you talk about me like this when I’m not around.”

Now I’m going to make sure that you understand the difference between useful information and damaging gossip…

If you found this article useful, please pass it along to someone else!!