There is a funny new Geico commercial featuring an office full of meerkats spreading gossip.
Of course, there is nothing funny about this practice. While some anecdotes might be harmless, in most cases gossip has a negative impact on team dynamics, decision-making, and personal relationships. If you have ever entered a room and the conversations stops, you know how it feels to wonder whether you were the topic and what was being said.
If gossip is such a harmful behavior, why do we engage in it? One reason it becomes a workplace problem is because too many employees are unhappy. Poor morale breeds rumors because it actually supports workers who feel like they have no voice.
One way to reduce or eliminate workplace gossip is to empower employees by including them in decisions, respecting their ideas, encouraging them to offer feedback, and listening empathically to their concerns. These steps can help to rebuild trust and show employees you care about them.
When someone wants to spread a rumor about a co-worker or their boss with you, how should you respond? These tips can help you stop gossip in respectful ways.
- Don’t just refuse to pass it on. Gossip needs an audience. If you only change the subject you haven’t dealt with the deeper issue. You can respectfully and directly tell the other person that you don’t intend to pass on this information and why you believe passing it on is hurtful.
- Question the gossip. Most rumors aren’t rigorously fact-checked. It’s amazing how a half-truth becomes a scandal, especially when shared without context. If a co-worker has an axe to grind it’s easy to play fast and loose with the facts. Shine a spotlight on the truth. Remind the colleague that they could be overreacting.
- Bring the rumor mill out of the shadows. Being proactive is an effective tool against office gossip. In addition to better internal communication, managers may need to meet one-on-one with repeat offenders . Encourage them to bring rumors to you first, before they share them with others. It might also be helpful to establish ground rules to clarify behaviors and define boundaries for your team or workplace. Keep in mind, they must be enforced and modified as needed.
Office gossips need targets and enablers.
When team members challenge rumors proactively, then facts will tend to rule the day. Remember, sometimes our silence may empower a gossiper to do even more.
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