7 Ways to Stop Gossip Vampires
Few leaders do anything about gossip vampires.
Gossip is a tool for personal advantage, self-justification, and helpless complaint.
If relationships produce results, gossip is expensive.
- Suck the life out of relationships.
- Take the wind out of organizational morale.
- Lower results.
- Create insiders and outsiders.
- Ignite and fuel whining, complaining, and blaming.
- Encourage irresponsibility.
- Stir up tension and controversy.
- Waste time and resources.
- Propagate distrust.
- Destroy hard earned reputations.
7 ways to stop gossip vampires:
- Confront gossip. Bring it up with kind candor and forward-facing curiosity.
- Speak to the face, not to the back. If you can’t speak to the face, stop talking.
- Don’t bring it up unless you plan to do something. The ONLY reason to open your mouth is to make something better.
- Never complain about someone who isn’t in the room. (The exception to this occurs when you’re working to bringing it up to their face.)
- Create problem-solving channels.
- Build transparent teams and organizations. Secrets fuel gossip.
- Talk openly about strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge that everyone is good at a few things and lousy at many.
Note: The phrase, “How to end gossip,” is over-optimistic and a bit tongue in cheek.
After someone listens to gossip, connections become strained and difficult.
Surprisingly, you might gossip about someone and forget it. The person who hears gossip remembers and makes judgments based on your negative story.
You might resolve your issue but the person who heard your gossip still carries your offense.
You might not know the person being gossiped about but you don’t like or trust them.
Gossip filled teams are dysfunctional and ineffective.
Step one: Stop gossiping yourself. Leaders always go first.
What negative impact has gossip had in your organization?
How might leaders “end” gossip?
Final note: You’re probably a gossip if you think this post is for someone else.
These problems all come down to two things: hierarchy and the “need to know” principle. Hierarchy dictates that people lower down are excluded from discussions, decisions and changes that impact them. In the absence of actual information and proper communication channels, gossip fills the vacuum. Most leaders don’t want their people to know everything anyway – if they do, they’ll want to take part and then you have anarchy: hence, need to know.
Organisations don’t want their laundry airing in public, either. The staff know something went wrong with the sales director with the wandering hands, but it’s all kept under wraps by higher management for the sake of appearances (“He’s seeking new opportunities…”). Who wants the staff going home and telling everyone that their manager was an official sex pest? Think of the reputational damage!
Thanks Mitch. ONe thing I took from your comment is the power and danger of making people feel excluded. A big leadership question is, “How to create environments where people are able to feel included instead of excluded?
Dead on, Mitch …
But only appropriate for a command and control structure, which elevates the shared values (e.g. “duty, honor, country,” etc.) to be primarily trusted in (which in turn “dictates” secondary trust in the C&C/authoritarian structure itself). This allows us to accept “do as you are told” directives, even if we can’t understand how the contribution is “good” or not.
The more horizontal/networked an org is, the elevation is primary for trust to be vested in interpersonal/cross-functional relationships (pseudo-social), and the secondary trust is placed in the common stated agenda (i.e. well articulated, queriable Strategy that can be tested against individual results). At its best (most transparent) this allows even a janitor to ask, “how’s that work?” and expect a coherent answer.
Obviously, every org is actually a morphing blend of the two, even if one is dominant over the other. The key is to enforce a cultural commitment where it is the discussion of stated strategy that fills the vacuum where (pseudo-social) “gossip” can no longer thrive, and is actively and organically (ilo top-down coercive) supressed.
I’ve never been part of an organisation where culture, trust and a common agenda were anything other that hot air. When it comes to/came to the crunch everything boils down to “do what you’re told, when you’re told, how you’re told and don’t ask damn fool questions”.
Dang, dude … I feel for you; that seems just this side of criminal,
especially in this day of “triple-bottom line” accounting.
It does happen, when it comes to the crunch, “push come to shove,” so to speak,
that authority will exert itself just to “git’r’dun!”
but then it is incumbent upon authority to say out loud “how, when and why” –
or everyone is set up for near certain failure.
Is this why we have so many gratuitous “CYA” memos …?
Thanks, Dan, for addressing this topic. I do training and consultation in team development, and one session is about gossip. It should be a part of staff orientation and training. It’s important to understand that if you’ve been a part of listening to gossip, even if you didn’t pass it along, you’re part of the problem. We have to give staff some tools for how to stop gossip, or walk away from it. And sometimes that training has to start with managers who don’t address it, or worse yet, are gossiping themselves. The more staff walk away, the smaller the audience for people who get their emotional needs met through gossiping. It’s impossible to eliminate this problem behavior completely, but I think we can make it more an exception rather than a “nothing can be done about it” rule. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience.
Thanks Chris. Congratulations on addressing the problem.
You really kicked me in the pants when you said, “It’s important to understand that if you’ve been a part of listening to gossip, even if you didn’t pass it along, you’re part of the problem.”
We propagate the problem when we listen to gossip.
Dan, my old school had a mantra for faculty. Speak positively about others in both public and private. I was amazed how well that worked.
Thanks Jody. Great seeing you here today. Isn’t it gorgeous in Central PA?
The simplicity of that sentence is powerful.
Great article Dan, thank you. One question though, how do you deal with deadly gossip when it’s a union employee outright lying about being mistreated by management and wrongfully disciplined. This person single handedly turned our office upside down. The problem has moved on, but there are still some residual effects. Just wondering how I could have handled this differently. Always feel like I walk on eggshells with union employees.
Thanks Lena. I’m not sure you can prevent this. I’m sure you started documenting things quickly. If not, documentation helps.
I wonder if conversations about the way we want to treat each other would be useful? Or, How do we want to respond to this type of situation.
It seems like optimistic transparency combined with forward-facing curiosity might help.
I love this line: “The ONLY reason to open your mouth is to make something better.”
As someone who grew up constantly talking (my Dad would ask me if a new book I was reading was good and I’d spend 2 hours telling him the whole story) this has been difficult for me in professional settings. I’m overly wordy, repeat myself and struggle to get my point out at times.
This one line is going to help me when the urge arises to have diarrhea of the mouth.
Thanks for your transparency, Eric. You have my respect. I’m personally rededicating myself to the guiding principle you mention. Frankly, it’s a constant challenge. One I’ve never mastered.
Borg is org … if you believe that to resist is futile … then we all lose.
It’s exhausting though … keeping our dreams from becoming nightmares in reality …
That’s why “taking time” for one’s Self (and one’s close others) is so essentially necessary and desirable. And you are right … Picard (the character) was the “penultimate” (next to last form) “bridger” facilitating a discernment between the collective (all life) and the individual (particular forms of life). 🙂
A good summary of the verbal manifestations of a larger and more pervasive (and toxic) behavioural pattern:
Once it is allowed to take hold, it is a lose/lose/lose proposition, and the cognizant generally will flee.
At this point P/A has developed to be a near global complex, and pretty well defines contemporary “politics” and “diplomacy.”
It is why true (servant) leaders are now so much the exception rather than the rule, paralleling JHeller’s “catch 22” …
you can only be allowed to fight if you are sane, in which case you would be insane to allow yourself to be martyred (the highest rational probability), such that the only sane response is insanity. If you want/like to fight, you are by definition insane, and shouldn’t be allowed to.
Such is the state of affairs/current human condition.
But we must resist P/A, not assimilate. There is no path of least resistance.
I failed to summarize and affirm Dan’s post directly …
… no path of least resistance …
Zero tolerance is the only effective treatment.
Just say, “No more!” to gossiping vamps and proto-P/A’s.
Hey Rurbane. You had me at the expression, “Verbal Manifestations!” 🙂
Also, I think you’re using the Borg as an illustration. Can you believe that Captain Picard actually UNassimilated?
Thanks for your insights.
I agree gossip is unhealthy. Sometimes people gossip because there are unresolved problems in the work place and the only way to find resolution/comfort is through gossip. Gossip is the unskilled mans means of resolving problems.
Gossip resolves nothing; it comforts only the ignorant.
It is a poison at even the lowest dosage;
it is a crack in the dike of civilization.
Thank you, Dan. You have a nice job outlining the negative impact gossip has on relationships and productivity. It definitely promotes a dysfunctional environment. Thsnks again.