John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC
Office gossip can undermine the teamwork that makes the profits that come back to you in bonuses. In other words, it can hit you in the paycheck. You can’t afford to ignore it.
Gossip is one of those things that ‘you know it when you see it.’ Still, it’s helpful to have a definition that applies especially to the workplace: A complaint about someone or something that you take to someone who can’t do anything about it. So, if you have a problem with Jim, you go to Mary and tell her all about your problem with Jim. You might feel better that you have vented, but you’ve likely changed Mary’s mood for the worse while damaging Jim’s reputation with her. And you are still stuck with the original problem.
Even if the person you complain to doesn’t really know Jim—or know him well—working on a team with him means having to get past, forget about, or pretend they don’t hear the “dirt” on him. Can you see how gossip undermines teamwork and solves nothing?
The worse news is that gossip is so every-day from TV shows, magazines and newspapers that pay for it. People tend to gossip in the workplace because they don’t know how to communicate the problem without fear of blowback, sometimes in the form of hurting someone’s feelings.
Gossip tends to disappear if you:
- Take your complaint to the person who can do something about it.
- Don’t confront the person with the issue; confront the issue with the person. Begin by asking the person for assistance in resolving a problem.
- Avoid ‘accusatory’ speech. A sentence that begins with “You make me…” will be heard as blame and accusation and will trigger defensiveness and argument. Instead, own your experience by saying, “When __X___ happened, I felt….”
- Identify the problem specifically and make a request for resolution. Avoid words like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ which only put the other person on the defense.
There is no guarantee you won’t get a negative reaction; you can’t control other people’s emotions. But when you keep respect and dignity in your speaking, you make the point that you are seeking to resolve an issue, not merely cast blame.
Gossip is insidious anywhere. In your office it can erode the teamwork that makes work fun and puts more money in your pocket.