Power and gossip
Business is relational. Employees on production lines, knowledge workers in offices, sales staff on the road, managers within organizations, and corporate vision casters all succeed because of healthy, supportive relationships.
Company gossips destroy relationships. In a world where business is relationships, gossips destroy business.
Gossips love power. They can’t resist the exhilaration of sharing destructive bits of “secret” information. Knowledge is power and negative information is easy power. Positive comments and affirmations travel like snails. However, Bob’s arguments with the boss, his marital struggles, or failure to win a client’s business travel like wild fire.
Gossips hate others. I’m using the term “hate” to describe motivations and behaviors that tear down rather than lift up. Gossips love hate because hate is the shortcut to power.
Are you an interventionist or a pacifist when it comes to gossip? When, if ever do you intervene? How should leaders deal with office gossip?
4 ways to spot backstabbers before it’s too late
Gossip is all about Power and Control over others. I have found Gossips to be quite narcissistic, which places them in a category where they could care less about those they are dishing. Interestingly, we all know who the Gossips are in our organization and too often we allow it to persist because we do not want the Gossips to gossip about us.
I have found that challenging the Gossips on their facts in public tends to shut down the gossiping, but it does not stop it. The only way to stop it is to place their job at risk. My wife has a person like this in her office and there are several younger women that follow her around like ducklings. In fact, they refer to her as Mother. In this case the Gossip is a massive Power and Control Freak.
Not unlike a metastasizing cancer, the Gossip must be dealt with as soon as she or he is discovered. In my opinion, the Gossip is stealing from the company if she or he is gossiping at work. Just add up the time wasted researching the gossip and the time lost delivering the gossip.
I recall one instance where I was able to track the time an employee I was supervising was spending gossiping. It didn’t take much of my time because it was so obvious. I deducted 25% of the time for the morning ritual of arriving to work and visiting over coffee. After the employee accumulated one week of gossip time, I met with the employee and asked when they planned to make-up the lost time. After the “deer-in-the-headlights-moment” we had a long conversation about gossiping and the impact it was causing the company. From my observations it worked, but, of course, it may have gone underground. As I mentioned earlier, these types cannot help themselves.
You’ve left another great comment that adds value to LF readers. Thanks man.
I chuckled when I read, “too often we allow it to persist because we do not want the Gossips to gossip about us.”
Jim’s website: http://www.leemanngroup.com/
How did your Mission/Vision session go?
Jim, thanks for asking. I’m heading to Oregon Sunday for a week. I’ll do it then. Thanks again for sharing your useful material with me.
Hope your wife finds the courage – and support from management and/or HR – to support loosening the codependent ‘Mother’ deal. Modeling helps … yet if it’s early in their work career, those young ladies may not know to get out of such a situation.
All the best.
Believe me, my wife has the courage and isn’t afraid to voice her opinion and she does. In fact, Mother was on vacation for a week and my wife commented to the office manager upon Mother’s return, “Amazing how peaceful it was last week.” The office manager agreed and popped up a message to Mother, who was holding court with her co-dependent plebes, telling them to get back to work. It is also nice to be the top billable person in her firm.
Based on David McClleland’s motivation research in Achievement, Affiliation and Power, my wife is very high in Achievement and moderately high in Independent Power, which for Mother is extremely problematic. Mother has no leverage on my wife because my wife doesn’t fall prey to Mother’s probing. Frustrates the hell out of Mother.
BTW, Mother is high in personal Imperial Power and is a narcissist. Her co-dependent plebes are very high in Affiliation with virtually no Power. Perfect match.
Loved your blog posts….Thanks
Appreciate your sharing and kudos to your wife. I also appreciate David M’s work.
“Interestingly, we all know who the Gossips are in our organization and too often we allow it to persist because we do not want the Gossips to gossip about us.” Churchill says it well …
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill
My approach to gossips has evolved as I have spent more time in the workforce. I initially found myself getting caught up in it; another thing about people who engage in destructive gossipy behavior is that they seem to have a real knack for wresting information out of us before we realize it!
I have found that I am MUCH less inclined to share information; my filter for that kind of thing has gotten much more rigorous. Not only did information travel if I disclosed it, it took on other characteristics that did not correspond to the original info (much like a fishing story).
I think that puts me in the pacifist camp — if the employee is not someone I supervise, I stay out of the situation on the premise that they will destroy themselves eventually. On the other hand, in the same vein as the fact that none of us should let racial/gender/age (or any other) slurs go unchecked, the most courageous thing we could probably do would be to say, calmly and from a centered place, “I have not found that to be true about . I think is an important part of our team and we would all be more effective if we supported him/her instead of saying things that can be destructive.”
Great to see you. Thanks for bringing the idea that we can limit some gossip by limiting what we say.
I was thinking about how gossipers add their interpretation to the words by interpreting body language. For example a raised eyebrow or a sigh while speaking about a situation or person becomes reason for a negative interpretation.
Best to you,
Paula’s website: http://www.waytenmom.blogspot.com/
As usual, great post Dan. Gossip is something that we experience almost everyday at work or out of work. If not dealt with at the early stages, gossip and rumours actually affect team morale. I think when it comes to work situations, as a leader you have to play an interventionist role. Once the rumours start to circulate or you identify a potential, why not sit down with the parties or party involved, look at the facts, analyse them and make positive judgements. I somehow agree with Jim that if it persists then maybe consider putting the job at risk as you don’t want to continue working with someone who is always destroying relationships. Out of work, if someone comes to me and wants to start complaining about someone, all i just say is, “It doesn’t help telling me if you are not happy with so and so, why not go tell them in their face how you feel”. You will be surprised by their reaction. Most of the times the gossipers want you to say something as well when you yourself never thought of that in the first place.
Great to hear you espouse the interventionist position since a modified pacifists role has already been taken.
I like to say, now that both positions have been taken a real discussion can begin. 🙂
Peter’s blog: http://pewatac.com/blog/
Good post, Dan. Exactly right. Gossipers do HATE others.
I’m an interventionist. I’ve been known to say ‘If you’re not going to have this conversation in front of the person you’re talking about, don’t have it at all’ or ‘There’s no basis for what you’re saying other than malice. Look out when what goes around comes around.’ and leaving the situation.
As you mentioned, gossips want power. If you stay and listen, your presence and attention gives it to them. Remove the fuel from the gossip fire at every opportunity and if possible, redirect that person’s energy into something worthwhile.
I think you are an interventionist! KaBoom. 🙂 – Tell me what you really think.
Thank you for coming by and leaving a useful comment that enhances the LF community.
How should leaders deal with gossip?
It depends. Gossip is defined as simply idle talk, especially about the affairs. People are social animals and we will talk about others. This is not necessarily harmful and it is impossible to stop.
However, there is a world of difference between idle talk and malicious spreading of rumors and innuendo. That falls under the definition of slander, and is, I think, closer to the kind of ‘gossip’ you speak of in this post. Leaders must be able to tell the difference between the two.
Because, Leaders can not allow malicious talk, whether you call it slander or gossip, to be accepted in the workplace. It is a cancer to morale.
1) Leaders never engage in malicious gossip themselves.
2) Leaders use ‘hot stove’ discipline to deal with malicious gossip. That requires brief explanation.
The hot stove burns every time you touch it. Without fail. It isn’t being mean. It doesn’t play favorites. Being angry or sad or happy or silly doesn’t change it. A hot stove burns every time. And so we learn not touch a hot stove.
When leaders respond to undesired behaviors like a hot stove, consistently every time, people learn to stop them.
I see you are an interventionist! Love the illustration of “hot burner” I think the illustration can be used in many contexts.
I suggest the point of intervention is reached when gossip negatively impacts morale, efficiency, or effectiveness.
Thank you for enhancing the conversation.
Mikes blog “Open Mike” http://mikereardononline.com/
Great post, and i particularly like the comment you made later when you mentioned how body languange can be (mis)interpreted. Not having been in any leadership/managerial roles, i am not sure if this would work, but do you think team buliding excercises would help stop Gossips? Take, for example, the classi activity where a person falls bcakwards off a platform and trusts the others to catch him/her. Now put the Gossip on the platform, and all the people below are people who have had some secrets disclosed. (From my perhaps overly-optimistic point of view) i think the Gossip would now be less inclined to talk about them if they actually did catch him/her; if they didn’t, it would show how much damage has been caused.
Hot stove approach is good, but could you please provide some examples of how a manager could respond?
Have a great day, everybody
So glad you left your comment.
Falling backwards off a platform may help a gossip if the others let them hit the floor!
My gut is team building doesn’t prevent gossip because gossip is an individual’s problem, not a teams problem. Having said that, strengthening relationships can’t hurt!
Perhaps others will chime in on your great comment.
Best to you,
Dan, great post! Gossip is alive and thriving in too many offices unfortunately. I agree with Mike that in some cases it is not necessarily harmful and not worth the trouble to attack it, because it is a natural thing to happen in any group of people. Sometimes, this is the voice of the people and leaders would do well to listen to it. I have seen “poor” managers or bad situations as the topic of discussion for many months until finally Gossip turns into rightful, formal complaints or actions that drive that manager/situation out. I am not advocating for Gossip, though. It can be extremely counterproductive, destroy morale, and divide teams, groups, and companies. If I was faced with gossip in my office, I think I would face the “Mother” directly, confront her, and try to get her on the side of reason, and working with me to keep it to a minimum/manageable point. In general, I consider myself a pacifist, unless I see an intervention is needed. I realize this is all easier said than done, though.
Great to see you and to have your participation in this important discussion. I love that you broadened the discussion to include “true” gossip. Perhaps what gossips are doing isn’t the best thing to do but you’re pointing out that some office gossip only reflects reality.
Best to you,
Filipe is connected with: http://www.alliancestaffinggroup.com/
I agree with many of the points and perspectives already given, Mike is correct in discribing two types of gossip and that the “malicious spreading of rumors and innuendo” must be cut-off by leaders immediatly.
However, the coffee talk chatter is just as infectous and can sicken a good team. It’s been my observation that most of this situation can be easily diverted by leaders having better communication with their team. In some worst cases, leaders do not share any information which harbors gossip terrorists of some degree.
I enjoy it when LF readers leave their practical wisdom. Your comment makes me think about a communication principle I heard once, over communicate. Information is one way to cut off “gossip terrorists.”
Best to you,
Gossip comes in many forms, I think it’s a bit reductive to consider it all motivated by hate. Gossip may indeed involve spreading rumors of who embarrassed himself in front of the boss or lost an account. However, it may also be whisperings of a coworker’s pregnancy that result in a surprise baby shower or leaked information that a respected coworker is getting a promotion. Even the same situation of the unfortunate situation with the boss isn’t necessarily being shared to spread the embarrassment, but perhaps because it’s a situation many people can relate to and sympathize with.
Secrets are power, but not all secrets are bad and not all power is leveraged for evil. Gossip persists because it serves some positive social functions. Sharing secrets helps people feel bonded, prosocial gossip can be a useful tool when trying to build a team. The key is making sure gossip is used for good and not evil; for bringing people together and not cementing ingroup/outgroup clique behavior. If you have a well-united team this shouldn’t be a problem. No one spreads cruel rumors about people they respect. If divisive gossip is becoming a problem in your workplace it’s more likely a symptom of pre-existing problems rather than the cause of them.