In our work with organizations, we advocate creating a culture where gossip isn’t tolerated. Here’s how we, at A2, define gossip: It’s any conversation about a person who is not present, with no intention of including that person.
Chris McGoff , author of The Primes, says that if you want your organization to survive and thrive, you must create a culture where gossip isn’t tolerated. His research shows that the way to prevent gossip is not to stop the one gossiping, but rather to stop the one listening. If gossip has no one to listen to it, it ceases to happen.
Gossip hurts morale, distracts employees from their responsibilities, and drains energy.
Imagine working in an organization where everyone was supported with training and development. Where there were no secrets, no hidden agendas, and no fear of back-stabbing. Imagine working where conversations that were previously confrontational were held regularly and openly, where there was no fear of being shut out, or ganged up on.
To stop the gossip, stop listening to it. Here’s how to do that. When you find yourself in a conversation about another person, stop. Take a breath and say, in some version that works for you, “It doesn’t feel right to continue this conversation without Bob present. Would it be okay if I go and get him so that we can continue?” Or, “Is one of us going to go talk to Bob after this? Otherwise, it doesn’t feel good to me to continue.”
There will also be times when you notice that you, yes you, are gossiping. I guarantee that gossiping is fulfilling some need you have. That need just isn’t sorted out. So, if you’re willing, you can keep digging, figure out what you need, and find a healthier path to get there. Here are some questions to think about when you find yourself gossiping:
- What does gossiping provide you?
- Does it make you feel better about yourself?
- Does it take attention away from you?
- Does it create camaraderie or friendship?
- Do you get people on your side?
- Do you get to belong?
- Do you get to feel right?
Now take a look at the need that is underneath the “why.” What need does gossiping fill?
The answer may be something like: I get to be right, be the first to share juicy information, and/or get another person in agreement with me. This fills my need for assurance, validation, and feeling special. Now that I know this, I can make other choices to fill those needs (like self-validation!).
So consider introducing a policy around gossip. Challenge your people to a new level of integrity. I promise you that everyone will have more energy.