Solution Saturday: Gossip in a Small Business
I have recently entered a new job and have really seen the negative influence gossip is having. Not really sure what to do being the newbie?
What are you thoughts?
Vibrant organizations build, nurture, and protect positive environments.
Language forms environments.
Protecting vibrancy includes minimizing destructive language.
If you’re a new leader, you have an opportunity to address latent issues from a learner’s point of view.
- Determine if the issue is really important. If it’s just a feeling, don’t bring it up. Is there tangible impact?
- Before dealing with any organizational issue, define and describe what you want. It’s one thing to attack gossip, but another to pursue vibrant environments. Describe what you want in terms of positive behaviors.
- Model positive behaviors.
- Schedule one-on-ones with influencers.
- Explain your observation and aspiration. “I’m seeing lots of gossip…. I need us to ….”
- Seek input. “How are you seeing this issue?”
- Establish accountability around positive behaviors, “I expect you to ….”
- Prepare to be the brunt of gossip, if you bring up gossip.
- Deal with it publicly if the issue is pervasive. Exhibit humility and humor. “Everyone seems to know everything about everybody around here. You can’t go to the bathroom without someone sending a text message.”
- Deal with it privately and aggressively, if the problem is isolated to a select few. “This is going to stop.”
Deal firmly and privately with malicious gossips. Don’t go public. Don’t use the 10 steps listed above.
Alternative: Become a gossip:
- How might you keep your finger on the pulse of your organization by listening to gossip?
- How might you keep gossips in the loop?
- How might you leverage what you hear for good?
New and not the leader:
Don’t bring up gossip, if leadership doesn’t care.
- Grow a thick skin.
- Don’t participate.
- Don’t be a tattletale.
- Don’t be aloof.
- Be a force of positivity.
- Build strong relationships with influencers.
- Practice positive candor. When you hear gossip in private, speak it with humor in public. “I heard…”
What suggestions do you have for dealing with gossip?
Dan, I have learned don’t participate works the best, do your job, and leave the “jabber talkies” to themselves! Just me.
Thanks Tim. I think many embrace your approach. The decision to ignore or engage is one of the most difficult.
Just keep doing a great job and don’t worry about it.
It may depend on how harmful the gossip is. Thanks for joining in.
Excessive gossip can signal a problem. Many times, people gossip to try to determine the truth about situations that affect them. Leaders can take steps to communicate internally to employees to provide factual information. Non- leaders can encourage leaders to address the lack of official information to cut down or eliminate the back channel. The grapevine is a way for employees who feel left out of the communication channels to try to fill in the blanks.
Thanks Deborah. Gossip may, as you indicate, be a response to lack of information. If leaders don’t share information, others make it up. I’m thankful you shared your insights. Very useful.
I had never thought about becoming the brunt of gossip if you bring it up. Great advice to be prepared for it.
I’m not a big fan of terms like ‘have a thick skin’ or ‘don’t take it personally’. I haven’t witnessed that it really helps or generates positive behaviors in most cases. We have enough numbing in our culture. I would instead advise to talk to someone you trust outside of work about it on a regular basis to alleviate the shame or frustration it might generate. The prevalent shame that arises from gossip is completely normal and not something that ever goes away if you want to be a connected and heart aware person.
We just have to learn shame resilience by connecting to those we trust and practicing gratitude (see Brene Brown stuff for more on that… I know you know her work Dan, and I recently saw she has tweeted your quotes). And I’m still working on it myself, but it is possible to find gratitude in the very people that are gossiping about us, in addition to empathy for whatever they have gone through that has generated the pessimistic attitude they practice.
I hope you don’t feel shame for me contradicting you Dan 🙂
Thanks James. The suggestion to take it outside the company is wonderful. I’m glad you added it.
Love Brene’s work and yes, I’ve seen her retweets. Here latest book, Rising Strong is awesome.
No shame here. It’s a big topic with many options available. 🙂
I found a way to make it healthy and more honest. Created a group internal (secure) blog that everyone can post in. I asked that they post all Gossip (no names of who said) so we can deal with it in the open. So far its working. Takes all the fun away from those who like to stir the pot by making things up.
Thanks Walt. I love practical suggestions. Your idea fits into the bigger idea of transparency and candor. We never achieve our best by pretending. Thanks for your insight.
Dan, you are the best person I know to keep both positive and negative gossip humorous!! So good, and thanks for your posts! As one who has always worked UNDER an organization or leadership, I believe this discussion is always good to be reminded of and how my conversation can hurt rather than help when I feel left out. We have all probably done that at one time or another.
I especially like your reminder in step #2 about being clear on what we want rather than dislike. That is true for both leaders and those under leadership (essentially leadership in training).
Thanks Tim. I’m glad you stopped in. Your idea that everyone, leader or not, is part of the solution is powerful and important. Have a great weekend.
I had a problem with gossip among my direct reports several years ago and ultimately (after some false starts) dealt with it by taking the central gosspmonger aside and saying, “It’s destructive, and I will not tolerate that on my team.” Much to my shock, it stopped. I think I suprised him into examining the impact his behavior had on the team. He is a really good person, very talented, and cares a lot about the team’s success, so that worked. I’ve also experienced gossip in a leadership team. I never heard it about me, but did about everyone else, so assumed I was included; I just hadn’t heard about it. I chose the “ignore” approach, which helped, but didn’t prevent the negative impact the gossip had on my peers and our abilty to trust each other. Where would you have gone with this?
Thanks Liz. I appreciate your illustration of the direct approach.
It seems like our perceived level of authority is a factor. If it’s a direct report vs a colleague. Perhaps exploring the issue as equals would help? We should assume everyone wants the best for themselves and the organization.
Malicious gossip can be a career killer, especially used to eliminate one who does take the higher ground.
Thanks PA. I agree. There is a type of gossip that can’t be ignored. Glad you stopped in with a powerful reminder. I’ve seen a few people who seem particularly skilled at harming others.
So have I. It is tailored to increase anxiety and paranoia, mostly motivated by jealousy and/or competition in an environment that ignores, enables, or rewards the behavior. A shame some workplaces don’t evolve from high school.
As you and others have alluded to, transparency and candor are the best antidotes to gossip. I used to tell my division heads, ” Treat information like it’s red hot.” If an important decision was reached late in the day, we would start spreading the word before we left the office so that we weren’t met in the morning by word that we were “sitting on” the news. Notes from every important meeting were widely disseminating unless confidential information was involved. I learned that gossip often springs up in the vacuum created by the absence of accurate information. People want to be “in the know.” The more accurate and timely information that can be provided, the less need ( and audience) there will be for gossip.
Thanks Jim. Love it!
Secrets are the breeding ground of gossip and backstabbing.
One client I work with has embraced the idea that there are no secrets unless it’s personal or an HR issue. Other than that, you should assume it’s public knowledge.
Thank you for sharing your insights and experience.
Gossip is an important issue, and I believe it exists at some level in every organization. I also think we all “gossip” to some degree because it is only human to attach purpose or meaning to others actions or behaviors, or to try to predict future unknowns, such as who is “in line” for the next promotion. When I was new to my organization 15 years ago, I made it pretty clear that I would form my own opinions about people and leadership based on my own experience. Now I am in a leadership position and am the target of gossip pretty consistently. When I hear any form of gossip (including “venting” which is related), I try to tell the speaker things like “yeah it looks that way, but we don’t know what they are thinking,” or “I understand that but I don’t think it was meant that way.” I try to point out the unknowns they are trying to understand or intention they are trying to ascribe while also understanding why we all gossip at some level.
Thanks Chris. “I try to point out the unknowns they are trying to understand … ” That’s powerful! Thanks for expanding my thinking. Best for the journey.
Organizational transparency and positive words about others in private, especially in the face of gossipers, are good antidotes.
I have been in a situation where the problem turned out to be my number 1 and number 2 bosses. My decision necessarily was to bail. But, I later made clear to the boss one layer (#3) farther up why I left and that I wouldn’t encourage several other people I knew who were qualified to take the position I’d held when the (#3) boss asked me to recommend somebody to fill the now-empty position I’d occupied. When the (#3) asked why, I told (#3) that I wouldn’t wish #1 and #2 up my reporting chain on my worst enemy let alone anybody who I respected. I agree with the guy who made it clear that he didn’t want to deal with the gossip either. v