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Gossip Unpacked: Part One

Most people would agree that gossip is toxic to the workplace. Unfortunately most people also have an active role in gossip flourishing.

Although I think some people are fully aware of what they’re doing and why, I believe most people don’t know or understand the role they’re playing when it comes to gossip.

The more I learn about trust, vulnerability and the drama triangle, the more I understand gossip – what it is, why it happens, the impact and what to do instead.

What is gossip?

As for what it is, we’ll defer to the dictionaries:

  • Merriam Webster: Revealing personal or sensational facts about others.
  • Cambridge: Conversations or reports about other people’s lives that might be unkind, disapproving or not true.

Examples of gossip behaviors:

  • Sharing information or stories that aren’t yours to share with others
  • Repeating information that you aren’t 100% sure is true or accurate
  • Discussing issues about other people with no intention of resolving the issue or addressing the issue with the person
  • Using others’ stories and information to hotwire connection with others

Why does gossip happen?

As for why it happens, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • People often use gossip to hotwire connections with other people. The intent is genuine, but the impact isn’t so great. The problem is connection based on gossip is like planting a seed in rocks – the roots of the relationship will always be shallow and unstable.
  • People use gossip to avoid vulnerability. Instead of engaging with vulnerability by giving someone feedback, setting a boundary, holding a boundary, asking for something we need/want, etc. we gossip. That’s often more comfortable than dealing with the uncertainty, emotional exposure and risk involved with the alternatives.
  • People lack skills. Giving feedback, setting/holding boundaries, asking for what we need/want are both an art and a science. In my experience, the majority of people have never learned how to do them effectively.

What’s the impact of gossip?

The problem with gossip is that it erodes trust, undermines connection and fosters a workplace culture that doesn’t feel safe for people.

How do we eliminate gossip?

Here are five practices to help you eliminate gossip in the workplace:

  1. Create a shared agreement/commitment to eliminate gossip.
  2. Teach people what to do instead of gossip.
  3. Provide ongoing feedback, direction and support (see practice 2).
  4. Be accountable for modeling behaviors and address your failures immediately.
  5. Help others be accountable by not engaging in gossip.

Remember the effectiveness equation: Activity X effectiveness = impact.

For example, for tip 5 you could say “I’m not engaging in gossip with you” but chances are that’s not going to go over well. Instead try, “remember, we have a shared agreement to keep sensitive information in the vault… checking in to see if this is a vault issue” or “it sounds like you have a concern with Joe, what support do you need to address it?”

Although these practices aren’t easy per se, they are simple and straightforward. Next time we’ll dig into the five practices for eliminating gossip.

 

Schedule a discovery session with StartHuman to get support in eliminating gossip in your workplace.

 

Amber Barnes
Amber Barnes
Amber is a leadership development professional with a heart for helping leaders maximize human performance in the workplace (and beyond.) With over a decade of experience coaching, training and advising leaders, she writes to helps leaders become more effective. Amber highlights common pitfalls, effective (and human) leadership practices as well as "must-knows" for leaders.