― Eleanor Roosevelt (attributed)
I am a pretty positive guy, overall. Shocker, huh? I like to see the best in people, and it's even better when I can actually have a hand in bringing out the best in them. And in my years of dealing with interpersonal relationships in both corporate and social environments, I feel very secure in stating that gossip is the number one cause for negative workplace experiences. I believe it surpasses the effects of a bad boss, or even dangerous working conditions. I believe it's more detrimental to morale than any other workplace woe.
Gossip is ongoing. It gets an insidious grip on the inner-workings of relationships until no one feels safe. Once a person is a part of a gossip-ridden conversation about someone else, they instinctively know that they'll be the subject of the next one.
Gossip damages the environment by infusing negativity. It's like a gas oozing in under the doorframe and around the window seams. It's taking over and the only way to get rid of it is to let in the fresh air--the truth.
Gossip destroys reputations. Have you ever been the subject of gossip or rumors? Then why ever inflict that on another soul? The United States prides itself on a judicial system that declares people innocent until they're proven guilty in a court of law. In the workplace, how can we assume the role of judge and jury when not a single one of us has all the facts? There is just too much at stake.
Gossip devalues self-worth. The gossip's own self-worth. This is the big one here. When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you want to remember a day of building others up or tearing them down? Do you want to rise to new heights in your career on the backs of those you've walked all over, or do you want to earn your place and the respect of others because you're truly best for the job? And finally, when others think of you, do you want them to draw close, knowing you're an advocate, or cringe away, knowing you cannot be trusted?
1. Set a no-gossip standard. You are in charge of your own words. You get to choose what comes from your mouth. Decide that you will only talk about the good in others and will leave the bad stuff alone. Realize that half of the negative things you might say aren't even true--and even if they were, you'll only add more poison to your environment and end up looking small. Be the person who never, ever gossips.
3. Call out the gossips. Oh, I know, this is a tough one. It's one thing to keep your mouth shut. It's not even all that big of a hardship to leave the room when the gossip starts flying. But call out your co-workers? No way! Trust me on this, you'll only have to do it once or twice. Then the gossips will talk about you for a bit..."Who does she think she is?" "Where does he get off?" But that will quickly end, and two big things will happen. The air space near you will be gossip free as others begin to respect your position, and you will be respected and trusted. It's inevitable.
Maybe you're reading this and thinking that might work if only you weren't such a guilty offender. Maybe you're even considering getting a new job so you can start fresh. Problem is, that doesn't solve your problem. It doesn't make things right. But I'll tell you what will make all the difference. Two little words. I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I gossiped about you and caused you pain. I'm sorry that I gossiped to you and put you in the middle. I'm sorry that I encouraged gossip by listening and even laughing.
Powerful, powerful words. I'm sorry.
There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly behooves any of us, to talk about the rest of us.
--Edward Wallis Hoch
Photo of coworkers #10046865 courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
Photo of woman #10025699 courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.