Toxic Talk Tears Apart the Team
Teddy Roosevelt’s only daughter, Alice, was famous for saying “If you haven't got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” Her words speak to how exciting it can be to hear a juicy tidbit or scandalous rumor. Gossip can be intoxicating. But it can also result in a hangover that will impact the entire office. If you want people to want to work next to you, it is wise to stay off the office grapevine.
People gossip for many reasons. It’s fun. It is a way to make conversation and friends. For many people, passing along the latest buzz is engrained in their culture or upbringing. However, we all know that gossip has a much darker side. It is often used to exact undue influence and unfairly advance an agenda. It can be wielded for vengeance or used to deflect blame.
Nowhere is gossip more prevalent than around the “water cooler” - that proverbial spot in every office where people gather to complain about bosses and dish on co-workers. In today’s digital age, that water cooler is just as likely to take the form of an email or text-chain as it is to be a physical location in the office. Email gossip cannot be overheard as a conversation can be, but it does create a permanent record of every disparaging word.
Oftentimes, workplace gossip originates from a disgruntled employee. It is common for this individual to seemingly always feel that s/he is being treated unfairly, whether real or imagined. S/he may seek a measure of revenge by talking negatively about others. It can also be an indicator of much bigger management system shortfalls.
If “Emily” is “venting” again because “Liz” isn’t doing her job, this is a clear indicator that the practice lacks clear job descriptions and accountability among the team. Additionally, if gossip is creating regular distractions in your office, it can be an indicator that you need to establish a system for conflict resolution, so employees can address issues and concerns in a safe and constructive environment. Moreover, “gossip” can also indicate that the practice lacks a clear chain of command and poor communication from the leadership. Where there is a lack of information, gossip, rumors and innuendo will fill the void. This is particularly true during times of change or uncertainty and employees feel that they are being kept in the dark.
Left unchecked, gossip’s profoundly negative effects spread far and wide, as what might have been a small sliver of truth spins further and further away from reality. With each telling, details become more exaggerated and the tone more malicious. It is in many ways like that old game of telephone, where an initial message becomes increasingly distorted as it is passed from ear to ear.
Don’t ignore gossip or dismiss it as being inconsequential. Stop it in its tracks. Immediately. Tell the person who is spreading rumors that you don’t feel such talk is appropriate. If you know for certain that what is being said is false, offer proof to discount it. And most of all, do not repeat what you’ve heard. Even if you preface the story by stating that it is false, you are still perpetuating the gossip.
You can also help to diminish the damaging effects of gossip by alerting those whose character is being maligned. While it is important to respect things told to you in confidence, if the intent of sharing the information is to smear or humiliate someone, then the greater responsibility is to let the targeted person know what is being said about them. This will allow them an opportunity to clear the air and ensure that no repercussions arise as the result of false information.
If you are interested in exploring options available for your team to “cure” the gossip, contact us here at McKenzie Management and mention this article.
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