A Mindful Approach to the Office Gossiper
In a world fueled by gossip - from reality tv, sensational 24-hour opinion-based news, social media, and magazines - it is no wonder that it is the NUMBER ONE enemy of team cohesion.
We are living in a time where the lives of other people have been the hot topic of conversation, and our lives are pretty much ruled by it. Reality TV has catapulted to the forefront of network ratings and social media has given us a voyeuristic peek into the lives of complete strangers. This has created a very toxic relationship that the human psyche has with gossip.
I am no stranger to gossip and have definitely been guilty of it myself. Nights out with friends, evening chats with my husband…sometimes the conversation turns to other people or events and I suddenly find myself traveling down that dark road of gossiping. It’s normal, and it is natural to have an interest in other people and the lives they lead outside of your interactions with them. It is not healthy, however, to get caught up in the web of stories that are likely very loosely based in truth.
The Oxford Dictionary defines gossip as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
Read that again.
NOT CONFIRMED AS BEING TRUE.
In an age of contagious misinformation, why would we, or our staff, want to contribute to the problem? Unfortunately, we all do it! It is estimated that people talk about others who are not present in ⅔ of their conversations. That’s staggering! Interestingly, most people that gossip do not have ill intent. They are gossiping to create a social connection with others, to gage the social climate, or to prove their worth (ie, that they are better than the person being talked about). It basically stems from a lack of self-confidence.
Gossip can be incredibly detrimental to a team. It erodes trust, creates low morale, discourages teamwork, can result in disciplinary action, and can possibly open an organization up to litigation. You can see why nipping this bad habit on your teams is crucially important to the success of not only your team, but the program itself.
Studies show that employees feel emotionally drained when witnessing co-worker interactions that have a negative or gossiping tone. If even one member of the team feels on the “outs” or the target of gossip, you will have a crack in the essential foundation of trust that is necessary for productive teams.
Why does gossip occur in the workplace? There are many reasons, but research has shown that change is one of the biggest factors in workplace negativity and gossip. And considering the constant change that everyone is going through in the program, and in life in general, it’s no wonder this is such a problem. In an article published in The Journal of Organizational Development, three perceptions about change were identified that caused the gossip and negativity:
perceptions of an insecure future
perceptions of inadequate working conditions
and perceptions of inadequate treatment by the organization.
How can we change perceptions and quell fears of change? Communication. This is also, conveniently, how we can tame gossip.
If you are a leader dealing with gossip in your team, here are some ways you can minimize it and perhaps even stop it altogether.
Practice transparent communication. If you don’t know the answer to something that is causing gossip, tell them you don’t have an answer. If it is something you do have an answer to, but aren’t able to share with the team, tell them you don’t have the ability to share. A team member that feels they can come directly to you with a problem or to get an answer will be less likely to start the rumor-mill about their issue.
Don’t pass judgement. Try to view the person or persons engaging in gossip in a compassionate way. Why are they feeling the need to talk about something that they don’t have all the facts for? What is their need that isn’t being met? Frequently, if you can identify their need, and have a conversation individually with how to meet their need or at least compromise, the gossip around the issue will stop.
Be aware of your own tendencies. Sometimes we turn to gossip to create trust, as odd as that sounds. We want to forge relationships with others, and that requires trust. If we give information (true or not) that we don’t give to others, it creates a level of trust with that person. However, it also has the ability to concurrently erode trust with the same person. “If they are only telling this to me, I wonder if they do this with other staff and I don’t know about it.” It’s a double-edged sword. Staff follow leaders by definition. Your behavior is a model for theirs, so choose it wisely.
Call it out or change the subject. If you are aware of gossip, or part of a conversation that is leaning toward it, call it out. It’s important to note that you would only use this tactic if you know the other party is able to handle conflict mindfully. Let’s say someone starts to say something that you know to be unverified, ask them how they know it’s true. “Is that true? How did you find that out?” Or “I’m not sure that’s actually true, are you sure about that?” This could halt the conversation and possibly result in a talk about the subject at hand, and clarify where the confusion is. If the person is not someone who has developed their mindful communication skills, just change the subject. Your unwillingness to participate in their negativity will be heard loud and clear.
If all else fails, a conversation is likely in order. If this is a team-wide problem, addressing it head-on in a meeting with everyone could be a good solution, even if it is uncomfortable at first. No one likes to admit that they gossip, so having a meeting with your team about the negative effects of gossip is a great way to place the issues being talked about on the table. What’s the problem and what can we do to clear things up? This can create trust with your team and open things up to an even more meaningful conversation. It all boils down to communication. The better a team is at communication with one another and with their leaders, the better they will be at minimizing the toxic behavior of gossip.