Nothing can undermine the culture of an organization more quickly than gossip. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
1gos·sip noun ˈgä-səp
: information about the behavior and personal lives of other people
: a person who often talks about the private details of other people’s lives
: a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others
: rumor or report of an intimate nature
: a chatty talk
There are a few key phrases, within this definition, that I’d like to draw your attention to — “personal lives,” “private details,” “habitually,” and “ sensational facts.” Nowhere within the definition of gossip do we find, “uplifting talk,” “encouraging others,” or “positive reinforcement.” Aren’t these words you’d rather use when describing the culture of your organization?
It’s human nature to be intrigued by the challenges and experiences of others. It’s something entirely different to share the intimate details of what’s learned, with others, in a malicious manner.
If I know Susan is undergoing a personal struggle in her marriage, for example, it should be my goal to lift her up and encourage her. I shouldn’t bring her down by sharing what I know with co-workers. It’s none of their business, unless Susan wants to personally confide in them. Susan will be far more productive if she’s encouraged, than if she feels as though everyone is looking down on her for what’s happening (and whispering behind her back).
The same philosophy holds true regarding work-related issues — use of company funds, impending layoffs, new hires, whose late and why. If you have questions or concerns, see your immediate supervisor, don’t gather around the water cooler with other employees.
To say gossip is rampant in most workplaces is an understatement. The quick Google search I just ran, for the phrase “gossip in the workplace,” yielded 1,590,000 results. There are countless articles about “how to stop gossip” and what a plague it can be on the workplace. Sarah Sheila Birnbach sums it up well in her article, “Is Gossip Poisoning Your Workplace?” — “Office gossip can create tension and disruption in a workplace, can undermine productivity and can cause irreparable damage. It can hurt morale and can also focus employees away from their more important responsibilities.”
What if we all just worry about ourselves and how our individual work ethic (and actions) affect the company that employs us? Aren’t we all in the same boat, after all? If we hope to succeed, both personally and as an organization — increased billings, advancement, higher salaries, long-term job security — why do the one thing that will most assuredly keep us from doing so? Gossip.
The next time you’re inclined to whisper in a co-worker’s ear, first ask yourself a few questions.
Is it any of my business?
Will any good come of my sharing this information?
What’s my motivation for doing so?
Then, get back to work.