Avoid workplace gossip

w2wlink.com by Mary Abbajay and Karen Bedell, co-founders of Careerstone Group LLC.

It seems so harmless. The little chitchat at the water cooler about so and so. The debate over someone’s relationship with someone else. The speculation about so and so. Is it chitchat or is it gossip? How can you tell the difference? And who cares? There is a very big difference, and it is an important one, because gossip run amok can be dangerous and destructive in the workplace.

Gossip or idle chit chat?

Gossip is often negative, inflammatory and embarrassing to the person being spoken of. Here is a test: Consider the impact of what is being said. Does it cast negative aspersions? Does it create rifts? Does it exult in the misfortune of others? Does it have a negative emotional charge? Does it serve to perpetuate conflict or negativity? Is it something you would say in front of that person? Technically, any sharing of trivial or unsubstantiated information can be considered gossip-but f the story is told with negativity and lack of good will, then it is probably gossip.

Gossip hurts

Gossip has many adverse side effects on an organization. It can increase conflict and decrease morale. It results in strained relationships. Gossip breaks down the trust level within the group, which results in employees second-guessing each other and ultimately running to the supervisor to clarify the directions or instructions, or to settle the differences that will arise. Gossip is the death of teamwork as the group breaks up into cliques and employees start refusing to work with others.

Rampant negative gossip also results in the supervisor spending an enormous amount of time trying to figure out who said what to whom. Productivity is lost, as are good employees who do not want to work in that toxic environment.

Breaking the gossip cycle

Let’s say you are not a gossiper. You simply listen to your coworkers so as not be rude. But here’s the thing that most people don’t realize-as a listener, you are a co-narrator to the gossip. In other words, the act of active listening actually supports and promotes gossiping. The more you listen, the more you encourage it. If you don’t listen, the gossip has nowhere to go.

Here’s how to get out of the gossip pipeline:
Be busy. Gossipmongers want attention. If you’re preoccupied with your work, you can’t be available to listen to their latest story.
Don’t participate. Walk away from the story. Don’t give visual clues that you are interested in listening. If someone passes a juicy story on to you, don’t pass it any further. Take personal responsibility to act with integrity.
Turn it around by saying something positive. It isn’t nearly as much fun to spread negative news if it’s spoiled by a complimentary phrase about the person being attacked
Avoid the gossiper. If you notice one person who consistently makes trouble, take the necessary actions to have as little interaction with that person as possible.
Keep your private life private. Don’t trust personal information with coworkers. Remember, if they are gossiping about others, they will gossip about you, too.
Choose your friends wisely at work. Share information sparingly until you are sure that you have built up a level of trust. Also, close association with gossipers will give the perception that you are a gossiper.
Be direct. Confront the gossiper and confidently tell him or her that such behavior is making it uncomfortable for you and other coworkers.
Go to a superior. Gossiping wastes company time and hurts morale. A company interested in a healthy work environment will value the opportunity to correct this type of situation.
What the employer can do
While regulating gossip can be very difficult, there are some things that employers can do to minimize negative gossiping and rumor mongering:
Communicate regularly and consistently with employees. Regular communication minimizes the influence and need for gossip, because everyone is “in-the-know.” A communication vacuum is a breeding ground for gossip.
Discourage gossip in official company policy. Convey to your employees that such talk is injurious to morale and productivity and will not be tolerated.
Nip it in the bud. If an employee comes to you complaining of gossip, or if you know an employee to be a gossip, be proactive. Tell the offender that you are aware of his behavior. Describe how his behavior negatively impacts the workplace and request a new behavior.
Incorporate employee driven group discussions and expectations about gossiping. This gives permission to coworkers to hold each other mutually accountable for having a “gossip-free” workplace.
As a supervisor or manager-do not engage in gossip yourself. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
written exclusively for w2wlink.com by Mary Abbajay and Karen Bedell, co-founders of Careerstone Group LLC.