Gossip hurts. Whether you are the gossiper, or the gossipee, gossip is damaging.
Gossip has been on my mind this week. Two different podcasts I listen to aired episodes about gossip. While preparing a presentation on positive communication, I remembered a time I was deeply hurt by gossip—from someone I trusted. And, sadly, I remembered a time in my ignorant youth, when I hurt someone else through gossip. Though I’ve long since repented and asked forgiveness, the memory still hurts.
Gossip hurts. Gossip doesn’t just hurt feelings, gossip hurts your business. Whether it is by someone gossiping about you or your business, you gossiping about someone else or their business, or whether it is team members gossiping at work, it can be devastating. Left unchecked, gossip not only can hurt your business, it can destroy it.
What exactly is gossip? Dictionary.com defines it as “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” Many define gossip as spreading negative rumors. Gossip is much more than that. It is talking about others when they are not present to represent themselves. Gossip is most often negative, but spreading information about others without their consent is gossip. Whether it’s negative or positive, true or untrue, speaking of others behind their backs is gossip. One rule of thumb is, “If you would not say it to their face, do not say it behind their back.” No one likes to be the subject of gossip.
Many gossips are quick to justify their actions, claiming “concern” or that it’s something “you really should know” about someone else. I’ve also been told that if it’s true, it’s not gossip. That is false. True concern is shown by speaking to the person directly and privately, not by gossiping.
4 Ways Gossip Hurts Your Business
Gossip Diminishes Trust
An Irish proverb says, “Who gossips with you will gossip of you.” It’s absolutely true. We all know die-hard gossips. The ones who can’t wait to share the “latest news” about someone, especially if it’s negative. While it may seem entertaining and harmless to listen to them, especially when they’re talking about someone else (who isn’t you), it’s not harmless. Would you trust them with anything confidential or important, knowing they’re likely to spread it faster than a wildfire? Would you trust any of their friends or associates with anything important?
Not only does gossip reduce our trust in those who engage in it, when we hear gossip about someone else, whether true or not, it often causes us to think of them in a different light. It may only be for a short time, but we have still allowed gossip to damage someone. This is unfair to everyone, but most of all to the subject of the gossip.
In a company that allows gossip, trust among employees diminishes, until no one trusts anyone else. Communication of any kind eventually tanks. Gossip hurts your business as important information regarding projects, assignments, responsibilities and goals ends up being withheld as employees fear becoming a victim of gossip.
Gossip Damages and Destroys Reputations
One of the most common subjects of workplace gossip is management. As gossip continues, it undermines the credibility of both the subject of the gossip and the gossiper. It can not only undermine them, but damage or destroy their reputations, and ruin careers. If the gossip becomes rampant enough, and vicious enough, it can bring down a company, or at least do some serious damage that can take years to recover from.
It’s bad enough when a company has to defend itself from outside attacks, but to have to protect your company from your own employees would be hugely demoralizing.
Gossip Reduces Morale and Productivity
Companies that do nothing to stop or prevent gossip have lower morale than companies with a no-tolerance policy for gossip. When rumors fly, they’re usually negative, leading employees to worry about how the company is doing, whether they’ll be next victim of office gossip, and whether that gossip could cost them their jobs. Allowing employees to undermine one another through gossip can create a toxic work environment, and diminishes productivity as employees begin spending more time gossiping, worrying about the office gossip and “what’s really happening at work.”, Gossip also hurts your business when employees decide they have had enough and begin focusing on finding another job instead of excelling at the one they have.
Gossip May Cost You Good Employees
If your company has a reputation for gossip, you may find it harder to land the best-qualified employees. Few people are eager to go to work for a company with a negative or toxic culture. In addition, that low morale and lack of trust will eventually lead to an exodus of good employees who are looking for good companies to work for. Culture is increasingly important to job seekers. What kind of culture do you want to be known for?
Whether an employee leaves because he or she has been the subject of a gossip campaign, or because he or she doesn’t want to become the subject, it doesn’t matter. Gossip has cost you an employee. And with the average new hire costing $4000 or more, depending on their level, it’s more than just a human cost. Gossip impacts your bottom line.
What Can You Do About Workplace Gossip?
Lead By Example. Choose Not to Gossip and Not to Listen to Gossip
Yes, I know. Easier said than done. Whether you are the CEO, a department manager, or the file clerk, you can lead by example. You can set a standard. Make the decision that you will not gossip and that you will not be a party to others’ gossiping. You can firmly but politely stop a gossiper in their tracks by telling them you are not interested in listening, and excusing yourself from the conversation, whether it means leaving the area or escorting them out of your work area. It takes self-discipline and practice, but as you stop the gossip chain, others will notice and get the courage to stop it as well.
Establish clear company-wide communication policies that identify appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviors.
Set a no-gossip standard. If necessary (and it probably is) define and give examples of what constitutes gossip and disrespectful speech. If it’s something that’s difficult to define or gossip has become entrenched in your company culture, you may need to Drop me a message here for a training session. You also need to outline the consequences of violating the policy. When you create an official, written no-gossip policy, you will want to run it by your attorney to ensure you are not violating specific speech rights pertaining protected communications.
Often, workplace gossip, especially about company status or its leadership arises out of fear, concern for the stability of the company and lack of knowledge. Avoid a culture of secrecy, where management makes decisions and fails to communicate with the rest of the team. This can happen in a tiny mom-and-pop shop just as easily as a Fortune 100 corporation.
Open, honest and regular communication with employees of all levels, and a policy that encourages employees to ask hard questions of management will go a long way toward reducing potentially damaging office gossip.
Encourage Positive Sharing
Be open in providing positive feedback to employees. Be interested in more than what they can do for your company. Care about your employees as people and encourage the building of real relationships. When you openly and publicly praise staff members for their wins, achievements, and successes both in and out of the work place, and express appropriate concern for their challenges, you are setting the standard for morale-boosting, relationship-building communication.
Have you experienced gossip in your workplace? How did it impact you? I’d like to hear your experiences or how your company is handling gossip? Please share your experiences in the comment section, or you can Drop me a message here if you’d prefer to respond privately.