Office gossip is everywhere. Have you seen how gossip at work kills both employees and employers?
In this article, you’ll learn how to know when healthy chitchat is turning into harmful gossip and how to kill it before it endangers the work environment like a radioactive wave.
What do people think about Gossip at Work?
In any setting, when you mention gossip, people raise their eyebrows and act like they’re on a mission to fish out a miscreant. Why? Because they believe it’s a negative word that subtly communicates treachery and therefore shouldn’t be encouraged.
Meanwhile, some fellows think gossip may be a good way of staying updated with happenings around you, even as you build connections with others. Individuals in this category believe people have freedom of speech, even at work.
Thus, they don’t see anything wrong with discussing with a colleague of yours how the naming ceremony of another colleague’s child went. Or how Jane, your beautiful HR is about to get married after a long wait.
And lastly, some believe there is good gossip and bad gossip. But the question is, how do you differentiate harmless chit chat (good gossip) from dangerous (bad) gossip?
Before answering this, let’s look at the literal meaning of gossip:
Meaning of Gossip— and gossip at work
According to the Cambridge dictionary, Gossips are conversations or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.
In the same vein, Collins dictionary states that Gossip is an informal conversation, often about other people’s private affairs.
Also, the Oxford learning dictionary sees gossip as a disapproving term that refers to informal talk or stories about other people’s private lives, which may be unkind or not true.
Looking at those three definitions above, you can see that gossip at work often involves talks about personal life and the affairs of coworkers. But do you know the thin line you shouldn’t cross between general chitchat and malicious gossip?
How to spot malicious gossip at work
Here are the simple ways to identify a malicious gossip at your workplace:
- The misfortune of others gets discussed with pleasure
- When the ulterior motive of the conversationalist is to instigate or fuel conflict or division
- The personality of others get run down
For example, say you just got newly employed in a company, and there’s this colleague called Anita, who’s already sticking around and telling you not to get close to someone. Perhaps, she tells you that the person, gossiped about, talks too much and is arrogant.
The chances are that Anita is not in a good relationship with that fellow for one reason or another. And it could be due to envy, quarrel, or as the case may be.
Effects of Gossip at Work
1. Dampen trust
Just imagine at your place of work you noticed a gossip about your personal life flying over. And you only told a single person something about that personal matter a month ago, which you didn’t expect him to publicize.
How will you feel about such a person and associated persons? Would you trust them enough to tell them something personal about yourself or important about the company in the future?
2. Low morale
How can working in an environment where trust is less observed be enjoyable? Of course, when gossip at work shatters the trust among employees, one of the aftermath effects is low morale to connect with others genuinely. Even in the process of work.
3. Endanger teamwork
The effect of gossip seems interwoven with another, as one leads to another. It takes a level of openness to working as a team member with others. But without trust and transparency, that will be almost impossible.
4. Breed anxiety amongst employees
Gossip at work breeds tension and anxiety amongst employees when it escalates to more serious issues. And often, it’s a strong source of stress at work as it leads to conflict and health challenges.
Some gossip at work may lead to more dreadful outcomes, which may put the existence of an organization on the line. Take, for instance, the personal affairs of a colleague circulated at your workplace, dragging his reputation down to the mud. Highly malicious gossip– it was 100% defamatory.
Thus, owing to that, your colleagues decided to report it to management. But your colleague is less satisfied with the management action or its disciplinary measures on the person or group who has kindled the gossip, so he decided to file a lawsuit against the gossip(er).
What do you think may cost your company? Most likely a legal fine or even a worse outcome. Depending on what obtains in such a country’s legal system.
How to deal with Gossip at work
Dealing with Gossip at work requires a collective effort of a company’s management and its employees. Thus, how to deal with Gossip at work shall be discussed in two subheadings:
Personal efforts in dealing with Gossip at work
1. Change the subject
Becoming part of gossip at your work cubicle, coffee room, or the room where the microwave and water dispenser are is very easy. That’s because it only takes your willingness to participate in gossip at work.
But upon discovering that a conversation is maligning the character of a coworker, you should apply your wit in killing the gossip by changing the subject. And if you can’t seem to do that quickly, your best bet may be to excuse yourself from that conversation and get back to work.
2. Make positive input
This is another way to help kill office gossip before spreading like wildfire through you. For instance, a gossiper starts saying horrible things about another colleague to you. Something like this:
“Jeraldine is such a snob and egocentric…”
You can beautifully counter that with an opposite but positive comment like this:
“Oh really? You know, at times, many things keep swinging in our heads. But I think… (You can then give an instance where Jeraldine portrayed a positive behavior.)
So you can add something like this:
“Jeraldine can be down-to-earth and helpful. Two days ago, I had a slight technical issue with my computer, and upon reaching her for help, she came right on time to my rescue.”
Guess what you’ve done to that conversation? You KILLED it!
3. Address the chief instigator
When you’ve identified the chief gossiper, you may want to try your luck with advice. By deciding to have a conversation with him/her as you present your piece of advice most courteously as best as you can. Give him/her the need to reason over the dangers of gossip at work. Who knows? You may be on your own making a black sheep turn a leaf.
That said, you may also choose to avoid the chief gossip, by all means. You don’t want to give access to such people because you don’t want to give room for malicious gossip.
4. Talk to your boss
When situations get out of hand, it is always best to involve a superior. In other words, talking to your boss about gossip that’s fast gaining momentum and causing heat in your workplace is the best thing to do.
Whether the gossip is about you or another colleague that will enable your boss to step into the situation by applying leadership and managerial dexterity. And thus, not allowing it to result in conflicts and stress at work. And maintaining your anonymity may be something your boss should do because the goal is to kill the gossip and not flame up more conflicts.
5. Set and maintain boundaries
Since you’re aware that gossip may always raise its ugly head, one of the sure ways to personally deal with unhealthy conversations at the workplace is to set boundaries.
Yes, you need to set a boundary between professionalism with informality. And thus, you shouldn’t spill out every detail about your personal life to win a connection or friendship with people.
Management effort in dealing with Gossip at work
1. Make policy
A company’s management team should create a policy book stating work ethics and ethical behaviors. The topics and nature of conversation disallowed should be defined in clear terms.
2. Spell out the consequences of gossip-free-work policies.
With adequate knowledge of the accompanying consequences on account of violating these policies, workers will learn to act accordingly.
3. Companies should include email policy in their employee handbook
Some employees abuse emails by using them as a medium to pass gossip. And this can have a negative legal implication on an organization, as the evidence of this misconduct can get a plethora of people (including outsiders) at just a click.
4. Organize trainings
Finally, managers should train their workers on the relevance of collaboration and embracing teamwork spirit, as they keep the work environment gossip-free. That could be through seminars or workshops on an interval basis.
Triple-Filter Test: Bonus Tips for dealing with gossip at work:
You’ve heard the triple-filter test popularized by the ancient philosopher Socrates during his time. According to him, we should examine what we’re about to say or hear about other people, considering the following:
This principle insists you weigh the truth of what you’re about to say about someone else. And on the other hand, as the listener, you should question the trueness of what someone tells you about other people. Be it a coworker or friend.
Secondly, after the information or message may seem to have passed the “truth test.” Thus, for example, while a fellow employee may be telling you what is true about another coworker, you should check the “good” of what you hear.
Thus, you may ask these questions:
What good does what the person is saying offer the person that’s being discussed about?
Does it paint the person bad or good? Does it malign the personality of the person?
And the third, the last of Socrates triple-filter test, is usefulness. After you’ve weighed what you’re about to say against the two preceding principles, the next thing is to check its relevance to the other person– you’re reporting to.
Gossip at work is a phenomenon that’s inherent in a work environment. It may not get totally eliminated from the corporate world, but it can be dealt with– bringing it to the barest minimum.