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Gossip Unpacked: Part Two

Eliminate gossip? Yes please!

But how?

In Gossip Unpacked: Part One I broke down some of the basics about gossip. Below I’ll dig into five practices for a eliminating gossip.

  1. Create a shared agreement/commitment to eliminate gossip

Created shared agreements often start with shared definitions. Guide your team through defining gossip and discuss examples of what gossip is and isn’t. In Gossip Unpacked: Part One I shared the Merriam Webster and Cambridge definitions of gossip. There’s also a useful definition in The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership:

“Any statement about another made by someone with negative intent, or any statement about another that the speaker would be unwilling to share in exactly the same way if that person were in the same room.”

Once you have a shared definition, ask if people are willing to commit to ending gossip on your team or in your organization.

  1. Teach people what to do instead of gossip

When I started training my dog, Guinness, the trainer was clear: If you’re going to take something away that he shouldn’t have make sure to give him something he can have. Exchange my shoe for a chew toy.

When we “take gossip away”, we need to replace it with something else.

Alternatives include:

  • Giving feedback
  • Asking for what we need/want
  • Setting a boundary (what’s okay and not okay)
  • Finding shared interests
  • Sitting with vulnerability
  1. Provide ongoing feedback, direction and support (see practice 2)

When I saw Guinness with a chew toy instead of a shoe (or other objects) it was important to celebrate success and say “yes!” or “good!” When he chose the vacuum cord, I took a deep breath, said “no” and gave him a chew toy.

Behavior generally doesn’t change overnight. Of course I can think of exceptions, but they’re exceptions not the norm.

That means, people need praise when they’re on track and redirection when they’re off track. People need tools, resources and guidance for the new behaviors. They also need a safe space to process failed attempts, difficulties, etc.

  1. Be accountable for modeling behaviors and address your failures immediately

Whether we like it or not, leaders set the stage. What we ask of others we must be willing to do ourselves.

Often what I observe is a leader that touts a zero tolerance policy for gossip, but lacks the self awareness to know when he or she is engaging in gossip and they get defensive when someone points out their behavior.

It’s a sad story, but one that occurs quite often. Leaders have to go first by modeling ideal behaviors, admitting when they screw up and making amends quickly.

  1. Help others be accountable by not engaging in gossip

When you hear gossip happening, here are a few options:

  • If someone is expressing negative emotions about something someone has done or not done, ask if they’re willing to have a conversation with the person. It might be an opportunity for feedback, to make a request or to set a boundary.
  • If someone is sharing information about someone else that isn’t theirs to share, ask them to clarify their intentions for sharing.
  • Of course you can always make light of a situation and use your shared agreement to say something like “we’re totally gossiping… let’s talk about ourselves instead! What are you doing this weekend?”

Be mindful of the “I’m just venting” trap. There’s an effective and ineffective way to vent. This response is a common tactic to defend and justify gossiping.

Eliminating gossip is a tall order, but one that will radically improve the quality of relationships in your workplace as well as productivity, trust, connection and so much more! Give these practices a go and let us know what’s working, not working, challenging, etc.

If you want to improve your feedback skills join us for Management Essentials or work one on one with one of our coaches.  

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.