Success Rule #20 – Don’t Gossip

This success rule calls for balance. As an unavoidable presence in the workplace, you will find yourself hearing about such and such or so and so, or upcoming changes around the office. Disapprove and risk being labeled the outsider, the snob. Perpetuate it and be part of the problem. If it’s damaging or hurtful, or the spreading of false information, then the rule – at a minimum – is it stops with you, simply let it go and don’t perpetuate it any further. However, if it is malicious or falsehood then setting the story straight is appropriate. “Jim what has Diane’s personal life have to do with our work here in the office?” “Hmm, I just left the staff meeting and that’s not what I heard. Why don’t we stop by Tracy’s (the supervisor) office and get clarification.” Gossip is often the result of idle minds with nothing better to do. Don’t do it.

  • Gossip results in poor communication it can interfere with the accomplishment of the mission.
  • Gossip can quickly lead to conflict, and such strained relationships that employees can no longer work together effectively.
  • Gossip breaks down the trust level within the group, the supervisor ends up having to clarify directions, instructions, or to settle differences.
  • Gossip is the death of team work as the group breaks up into small “clicks,”.
  • Gossip results in the supervisor spending an enormous amount of time trying to figure out who said what to whom.
  • Gossip impacts productivity as employees use the time on the job to do so.
  • Gossip will drive your good employees, to leave the workgroup.
  • Gossip can be so overwhelming supervisors find themselves going home at night so exhausted that they wonder if being a supervisor is worth the emotional toll it takes.

At the same time, gossip can have its place and be useful. That’s right — helpful. In many workplaces information isn’t very forthcoming. Sometimes the office grapevine is the only conduit for carrying important news. When that is the case, everyone can benefit from paying careful attention to the bits of data that trickle down. First, take it with a grain of salt. Never act on the rumor mill, always seek clarification. It’s not always the result of intentional misleading, sometimes it’s just the game of “Telephone” we played as a child. By the time the message is communicated down the line, it’s created a life of its own. In the words of the great communicator himself, Ronald Regan, “Trust but verify.”

Supervisor Tips: If you wish or need to minimize gossip in your office consider some of this.

  • Communicate regularly and consistently with employees about what’s going on in the workplace. One of my first clients hadn’t had a staff meeting in an organization of 73 employees in a “number of years”, and they wondered why they had a high number of grievances, moral problems, inefficiency and more.
  • Incorporate organizational core values and discuss them REGURALY. Use these core values to address all elements of behavior in the workplace.
  • Address the gossiping employee that you are aware of his/her behavior. Describe the impact the employee’s behavior has on the workplace and that his/her continued participation in the spreading of rumors and gossip is a violation of the organizations core values.
  • When Core Values are established and discussed regularly, they give permission to coworkers to hold each other mutually accountable. Have a discussion with employees, similar to the one at the beginning of this article, about the impact gossip has on the workplace.

If appropriate indicate the impact the employee’s behavior has had on the workplace in his/her performance evaluations.

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Bryan Conway JD, PMP

I believe that non-personal gossip usually fills the void left by poor, untrustworthy, or nonexistent formal communication. When employees don’t receive important information (“will I have a job Monday if the government shuts down?” seems to be considered important information to most government workers!) through their chain of command, the grapevine takes over.

Personal gossip will go away as soon as human beings quit being inquisitive, feeling jealous, or enjoying sensational news about others – in other words, gossip isn’t going anywhere!

Anthony Tormey

Bryan, you are exactly right, an important lesson for supervisors, mangers and leaders at all levels. In the absence of effective communication, employees will fill the void with their own information – 9 out 10 times it will be incomplete and or inaccurate.