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Management: Dealing With Workplace Gossip - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Dealing With Workplace Gossip

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Dealing With Workplace Gossip

Gossip in the workplace will poison the morale and work environment of an organization worse than just about anything else. That nasty flu bug that wipes out the entire production team is nothing compared to a vocal spirit of negativity and back-stabbing. At least with the flu, everyone eventually recovers, returning to work stronger and immune to that particular strain. Workplace gossip strengthens nobody, and its infection can last years.

The insidious thing about gossip is that everyone agrees it's harmful and has no place in a professional setting, yet general staff meetings or group email messages warning against the behavior are useless, because its worst perpetrators often don't realize they're the ones at fault. To a chronic gossip, nothing he or she does is gossip: it's "sharing," or "chit chat," or "water cooler talk." As much as you may dislike the thought of confronting gossips and calling them on their behavior (and calling it exactly what it is), there's really no way around it.

Gossip comes in two different flavors If you're lucky, it's the most fixable type: just a learned misbehavior, like showing up late in the mornings or leaving a mess in the lunch room. When you know who the big gossips in the office are, it's worth addressing the fault from this perspective first, mostly because its implications are easier to deal with. Handle the behavior the way you would any other, with private one-on-one meetings conducted in whatever style has gotten you to where you are today. Make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable, and outline how you will deal with it. Many people, when seeing the issue framed as unprofessional behavior, will be able to make the adjustment--most of your good workers don't want to be seen by the boss as unprofessional.

This kind of gossip is easiest to manage because its emphasis is on behavior, not on character. Whether you are the nurturing, let's-work-this-out-together manager, or the my-way-or-the-highway type, you underscore the behavior and simply take steps to end it.

The other kind of gossip is harder to nail down, and often more painful to confront, because it addresses a person's character. For whatever reason and from whatever personal history, some people seem to be constructed in a way that makes gossip a compulsive expression, the way other people seem to be genuine truth-tellers, sincere listeners, aggressive competitors, or reluctant socializers. Sadly, depending on what kind of organization you lead, it's unlikely you're equipped to deal with this person's issues, and almost a certainty that you'll need to let him or her go. On the plus side, since you've already focused on behavior, by the time you come to the realization that you're dealing with a character issue, you've done your due diligence and can do so based strictly upon behavior.

Sometimes positivity can squeeze negativity out, so while you're working with the office gossips on correcting their behavior, call in some of your truly positive people, and without singling any of the gossips out, simply encourage them to ramp up the positivity for a while. Gestures of kindness, moments of encouragement, and words of praise are much more contagious when spread by coworkers than by managers. If you can get move people around under other auspices, get more positive people into the most gossipy work spaces. This may take some persuasion, because your positive people are most likely to avoid the gossip zones, such as the lunch room, that cluster of cubicles in the east corner, or wherever everyone goes for a smoke break, but the payoff can be great.

Gossip isn't just going away, and getting rid of it needs to be a targeted approach aimed at the offenders. You wouldn't look the other way on an abusive cusser, sending out vague emails asking for better decorum--you'd be direct and firm. Yet gossip is as destructive a force as verbal aggression. You may even be losing good employees because of a poisonous, gossipy workplace environment. Identify the participants and address them head-on, or your organization may never realize its bigger goals.


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Management: Dealing With Workplace Gossip - Executive Leadership Articles

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