I’m not going to lie. I’ve done my share of gossiping over the years, and I’ve also been the subject of some interesting gossip here and there. But the truth is that negative gossip can be hurtful and can cause a number of issues, both personal and professional.
On a personal level, gossip can become so toxic that it can negatively affect your day-to-day life–and professionally, it can cause dissension among colleagues and can even go so far as to ruin careers or entire businesses.
That’s why managing workplace gossip is important for organizations and for the employees who work there. Here are some important steps you can take as a team and as an individual to encourage communications that benefit your emotional health and career.
Dealing With Gossip as a Team
Consider a ban on gossip. Some employers have adopted an official ban on workplace gossip and require employees to sign a pledge. Opinion remains divided about whether this practice is too extreme, but it can send a strong message.
- Encourage open communication policies. A more moderate step is promoting open communication policies. Let employees know that they’re expected to talk directly with each other about conflicts before calling in a supervisor or other outside parties.
- Comply with personal blog and general internet use policies. Keep an eye on e-mail and chat too. Appropriate blog and online policies can balance an employee’s right to personal expression while protecting the company and related individuals from harassment, defamation and other threats.
- Confront rumors promptly. Minimize anxieties by responding to rumors promptly. Factual information about layoffs or other difficult issues serves people better than leaving them to speculate on their own.
- Discuss the impact of gossip. Use staff retreats and other gatherings to remind everyone about the difference between positive communication and gossip. Prevention is better than singling people out after the damage is already done.
- Know your legal rights. In general, employers have a duty to take action against verbal harassment if they’re aware of it. An employment lawyer can advise you on what options are available in your individual situation. If you’re on limited budget, your local bar association may be able to help you find free or low-cost legal services in your community.
Dealing with Gossip As An Individual
- Share information. Being generous with non-confidential information can put a check on gossip. Keep employees informed with regular progress reports about work issues or projects. If your work is likely to affect someone else’s responsibilities, ask for their input and invite them to meetings.
- Be sensitive about appearances. Closed doors can set off alarms even when the explanation is innocent. Let people know that you’re just watching a webinar with the speakers on and it’s okay to knock or send you an instant message if they need something.
- Reach out to new people. Resist the tendency to form cliques by inviting someone outside of your usual circle to join you for lunch. Sign up for the company softball team or volunteer for a charity drive.
- Walk away. Gossip doesn’t spread easily if it lacks an audience. You can tactfully suggest a more constructive channel for stating a complaint or just remove yourself from the discussion.
- Focus on your colleagues’ good qualities. Tensions can build easily at work. Remind yourself about what you like about your co-workers and the things they’ve done to help you in the past. You’ll automatically have nicer things to say about them.
- Cultivate relationships outside of work. Devote adequate attention to your private life, especially if you work long hours. Having close relationships outside the office can provide you with sources of emotional support and objective advice when issues arise in the workplace.
- Get busy. The best antidote to harmful gossip may be just staying busy. If your day is full of tasks that you find challenging and gratifying, you’re less likely to get distracted by less constructive activities.
An office grapevine run amok can take a heavy toll on morale and productivity. Help your colleagues and yourself to create a work environment where open and respectful communications flourish.
Have you ever dealt with gossip at work? How did you handle it? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.