Joining in a gossip session at work can be tempting. But what are the consequences to you and your team?
Gossiping involves sharing unsubstantiated information. Gossiping at work is a normal behaviour – it is a way of sharing news and bonding with colleagues. Most gossip is innocent and helps connect people. But when gossip becomes malicious and nasty, it is a toxic behaviour. You can tell that a conversation has moved beyond harmless chitchat when:
- Something hurtful or damaging is being said about someone who is not there
- People take sides against each other as a result of the conversation
- The emotional undertone of the discussion is negative
- A conflict is being created or perpetuated through the conversation
Conversations like these can have serious repercussions. For example, imagine you’re an account manager in large software company. You have a family crisis to deal with and take three days’ leave at short notice. Members of your team begin to gossip. Soon everyone in the team believes you are hunting for a new job. Word spreads that you’re taking days off to secretly attend job interviews. Someone repeats this rumour to one of your customers. The customer takes ‘pre-emptive action’ by cancelling their account. They don’t want to deal with a new account manager. The gossip has not only impacted on you, it’s impacted the business.
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What’s so bad about gossip?
Participating in gossip is not an ‘innocent’ activity. Malicious gossip can result in problems such as:
- Psychological harm to the target of the gossip
- Damaged reputations within a team
- Reduced work productivity
- Escalation of workplace conflict
- Biased decision-making (when gossip is considered to be ‘true’)
- Damaged reputation of the business
- Legal claims relating to slander, bullying or harassment
The bottom line is that gossip is bad for relationships and bad for business.
What should you do about it?
You can’t eliminate gossip altogether. But you can be assertive about saying ‘no’ to damaging conversations. Ask yourself whether you’d be comfortable if the person you’re talking about overheard the conversation. If the answer is ‘no’ it’s time to walk away. See page two for tips on how to do this.
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