People love to spread juicy chatter about others— especially if it was intended to remain private. There’s something in everyone that tempts us to engage in rumor and scandal, and take jabs at others who make mistakes, or have unfortunate things occur to them.
While not often a subject written about in leadership, gossip is a reality among teams and leaders should develop skills to manage it. Here’s why gossip must be minimized in the workplace:
It’s often inaccurate or embellished. How many times have you heard something about someone else from a coworker that ended up not being true, or was exaggerated and taken extremely out of context? By the time it's corrected, irreparable harm has been done.
It’s destructive. Even if the negative things said are true, no one enjoys being the controversial subject of other people’s conversations. Gossip destroys trust and unity among teams.
It’s a distraction. Gossip always has a negative effect upon productivity. In other words, it lies outside the realm of what truly matters in the achievement of purpose or mission. Even if the subject of gossip is a person’s work or relates to things occurring in the organization, the ones gossiping normally have no control over any change concerning it.
SO, HOW SHOULD YOU LEAD YOUR TEAM AWAY FROM GOSSIP?
Starve the Negative.
Leaders set the pace for the culture of the rest of the team. As the leader does, so does the team. Therefore, when you hear gossip try to dismiss it as such. Don’t perk up, don’t seek more details, and don’t entertain laughter or malice toward anyone in your organization. In time, what leaders starve goes away.
Also, remember if someone is willing to gossip to you, they are willing to gossip about you.
Feed the Positive.
How about starting a trend and building a culture in your group of positive gossip? Tell stories of others that are uplifting and encouraging. The stories you tell, the language you use, the attitudes you hold... all these will eventually get replicated by others on your team. Condition your team members to focus on what’s right in others.
Know the Difference
There will be times when people come to you with news about another person that is negative and has potential adverse impact upon the team and its work. While the news about this person might be negative, the concerned feedback to you about it is not necessarily so. This represents appropriate communication to the team leader.
So while not entertaining gossip, there is information about people on your team that is vital for you to know. As the leader, you serve as a gatekeeper of what’s appropriate to say about others and what’s not. You’ll have to teach your team the difference between the two. You do this in indirect ways (by your stories, attitude, language, culture you build, what you feed, what you starve, etc.) and in direct ways by your training of them.
(1) Hold “team unity” training. Many leaders shy away from such subjects and just hope and presume that unity will occur and gossip won’t. Don’t make that presumption. Speak with and train your team about this important subject.
(2) Teach your team the difference between gossip and communicating for the sake of unity.
Gossip is fun and unnecessary. Communicating for unity is not pleasant, but necessary. Our attitude in sharing information is often the key determining factor in whether it is gossip or is said for the sake of the team. Gossip does not have to be shared with others: it’s only exciting and fun to. Communicating for unity is when we have to share information with appropriate others in order for the team and organization to be protected. Ask yourself: Do I feel happy about sharing this news, or do I wish I didn’t have to?
Gossip flows outward and downward. Communicating for unity flows inward and upward. Tell your team that gossip is when we share negative information about someone with other people who are not a part of the problem, nor a part of the solution. Gossip goes outward to those who really have no business knowing, and downward toward subordinates in the organization. This is detrimental. Alternatively, communicating for unity is all about “need to know.” Who on the team absolutely must know this information? Communicating for unity stays within the team and/or to those who must know for the purpose of protecting the group and its work. It also flows up to the team leader so that he or she can act in the best interest of the group. Ask yourself: Who truly needs to know this information?
Gossip destroys unity. Communicating properly builds it. How I share information and with whom is critical. If you will harm your team by sharing the information, then do your best not to share it. If you will harm your team by withholding the information, then you should share it with appropriate others. Ask yourself: What will be the effect upon my team?
(3) Train your team in how to deal with gossip when they encounter it.
Here are five quick instructions for team members:
• Determine your attitude. Is it vengeful and hurtful, or positive and uplifting for others?
• Deflect the narrative. Don’t entertain and feed gossip. Change the subject.
• Defer to the one in question. Encourage the person gossiping to go to the individual and speak to them in person to get the truth, rather than speculate to you about them.
• Give the benefit of the doubt to your teammate. Just because it’s said, doesn’t mean it’s true. Believe the best about those on your team; not the worst. Don’t you want to be that kind of person? Don’t you want others to be that kind of person toward you?
• Discuss problems with leadership. When problems occur and they reach a level of threatening the team in some way, speak to your leader.
(4) Tell your team that there are HR considerations at work.
Team members should know the HR policies for workplace communication and the negative implications to their jobs of untruths being spread about others, or personal information being shared that was intended to be private. These are often disciplinary or even fireable offenses.