How to Avoid Workplace Gossip Problems and Maintain a Great Culture
It’s Monday, and you’re getting your morning coffee. Just as you stir in the perfect combination of creamer and sugar, here comes your co-worker Susie who appears to be very frustrated and says, “I cannot tell you how annoying Jay has become lately. Ever since he got promoted, he acts like he’s everyone’s boss! I am so tired of him delegating work like the only thing he has time to do is schedule more meetings with all of us.”
How you respond to such a comment reinforces what the 'norm' is for your company’s culture. If you talk negatively about others in their absence, how does that align with you organization’s values? More importantly, what does it say about you as a leader?
Don’t get me wrong. We need – and value – social interaction at work. And, it’s not all bad. In fact, chatting with co-workers is beneficial when it helps to build rapport and promote teaming and employee engagement. But when chatting turns to gossip – that is, conversations about other people who are not present that become derogatory or judgmental in nature – it is harmful to your organization.
3 Simple Ways to Best Thwart Office Gossip Before it Becomes a Problem
The truth is, you always have a choice when co-workers’ conversations turn into gossip. You could certainly participate in the gossip. But that’s not helpful and doesn’t contribute to addressing issues and finding solutions. Or, you could try one of these approaches:
- Start with a gentle redirect: “I’m sorry you feel that way about Jay. What did he say when you told him about how he comes off to you?” Often, this will signal to the person that you view this less as an opportunity to engage in gossip and more as an opportunity to coach and mentor them through a problem.
- If that doesn’t work, try being a bit more direct: “It’s unfortunate that you’ve had those experiences with Jay. I’ve always had a great working relationship with him. You should talk to him about how you feel.” This statement acknowledges that Susie has a problem with Jay, but that you don’t share this problem. It’s an observation, without judgment, and a suggestion to take the issue back to the source.
- And if “Susie” still wants to engage, say directly, “I can appreciate that this has been difficult for you, but please don’t talk to me about Jay. He and I get along. I respect and like him, and when you tell me these things, it’s harder for me to work with him. I’m here for you if you need advice on how to get things back on track with Jay, but if not, I’d prefer we just don’t go there again.”
You’ll only have to do that a few times and your message will soon be clear. While you are not interested in gossiping, you are interested in productive conversations that help your co-workers and that reinforce a more positive culture.