How to Deal with Office Gossip and Difficult People at Work
Office gossip can be very destructive, not just to the individual who is the target, but also to the organization or community as a whole. The negativity at work caused by gossip fills the work environment with tension and conflict, making it bad for everyone. If the office environment is soured, small problems are inflated and many employees become tense and anxious about what is being said about them and this increases the gossip. A decrease in productivity is inevitable and staff conflict can increase.
Offices where gossip proliferate often lack the processes and environment where people feel free to discuss personal issues. Gossip can also arise because of gaps in available information. Gossip fills the void when no information is forthcoming about something that has happened in the office or to one of the employees.
Gossiping can develop like a cancer spreading through the office and creating a backbiting and stressful environment where half-truth and innuendo replaces truthful transparency. Malicious workplace gossip is self-defeating, corrosive and belittles both the speaker and the person who is the victim of the gossip. It can be vicious way in which ambitious staff may see to undermine a competitor. Or is may be idle gossips, lacking a motive, but still being corrosive and damaging.
Gossip is very hard to control and the victim may be totally unaware that it is occurring, but it has to be dealt with. Gossip e who bear grudges and don't understand why it is occurring or the motives. It has destroyed careers and poisoned workplace environments as it breeds mistrust and backbiting between individuals and groups of people and can lead to revenge and resentment.
Gossip as a Form of Bullying
Gossip can be an insidious form of bullying. It is demeaning. It promotes lies and half truths about people behind their backs. It is often designed to hurt and denigrate people and destroy reputations behind their backs. It is equivalent to a bullying episode putting someone down or denigrating them without the victim knowing it is occurring. The victim may only be aware of sniggers behind their back and the whispers in the background, which can destroy morale and trust.
Office gossips can be very difficult people to deal with. A typical office gossip continuously discloses personal or sensational information about others. Because gossip often concerns inference and rumour rather than established fact, it is often difficult to find out about, let alone to undo or refute. Many gossipers love to be seen as the source of this information and it empowers them and may attract more requests for information about the same person, often twisting the truth further.
What can You and Your Office Do about Gossiping
Analyze the Gossip - When you hear some new gossip about someone else always ask yourself the following questions
1. What are their motives for telling me this?
Why do he or she want this data or story to be known? Is it driven by jealousy or a need to compete or to demean or undermine someone. If so you should take appropriate action to kill it off, to nip it in the bud and to make the victim aware that it is happening so that they can act to repair the damage.
2. Does this news have any basis? What are the consequences? It it trivial or serious?
This is especially important or a manager or supervisor. If the gossip concerns a team member’s work or dishonesty, it is wise to check the facts independently before taking any action to address any problem. The inaccuracy and lack of detail needs to be corrected. Again the source of the gossip need to be extinguished. Dishonest news or untruthful rumours will only create negative outcomes such as growing resentment and perhaps revenge, including spreading more rumours and gossip. The real facts and information needs to be made known to those involved.
Act Immediately to Stop Gossip - First, clarify things by making people aware the gossiping will not be tolerated and get people to agree to stop it as soon as it arises. If you hear anyone starting gossip that you know is just malicious talk and slander, try to stop it immediately and prevent it progressing. Don't pass it on.
If you hear that a colleague is passing on gossip about you, talk to them and clarify the facts and animosity. Clear up any resentment and misunderstandings. Be calm and patient during the conversation without any accusations - focus on the misinformation rather than the motives. Most gossip breeds from a factual errors or a snippet of information that lacks details. Gossip fills these gaps. Something may have happened. People may not know why and the consequences. Lacking details people simply gossip about the possible reasons or causes which are unknown. Revealing the facts and filling in the details will often quell the rumour. It may be a good idea to let everyone in the office know the facts and details as well. It may be none of their business but gossip makes it your business to reveal the truth.
Lastly, show how untrue the office gossip is by acting in a way that contrasts with the chatter. This can help quell further false talk about you.
Avoid Joining In - Pay close attention to your own role in the situation. A person who passes on gossip or rumour becomes just as guilty as the one who started it. The stories often get embellished with extra juicy bits and innuendo as its passed on. This occurs whether you are aware of it or not. Make certain that you are not involved in the mud-slinging, and if chat has become nasty gossip, you need to act fast. A non-confrontational response to office gossip is warranted. This means walking away and making it clear that you object to gossip when someone gossips with you about someone else. Your passive involvement, even if you don’t respond, can still be regarded as you condoning the chatter. A more effective method of dealing with office gossip is to steer the conversation back to work related topics or to try to put a more positive spin on what has happened and seek clarification of the facts.
Discuss Gossip At Work - Everyone should recognize that gossip is a common human trait that everyone engages in. It can play a negative or a positive role for employees and within organizations. The way that gossip is dealt with can define the culture and atmosphere of the group and its performance. It can foster a supportive and positive response where gossip is seen as a sign that support or understanding is needed for making changes and dealing with problems. Nasty or excessive gossip lowers morale, disrupts productivity, and often targets individuals who are bullied in other ways. Gossip can easily cross the line into cases of harassment or mobbing behaviours, and can become health and safety problems, race or human rights issues. Complaints about gossiping can be very hard to substantiate. The best way of dealing with gossip at work is to discuss it openly and make people aware or each individual' accountability and responsibility for its consequences. Gossiping can be discussed as part of efforts to deal with bullying in the workplace.
Speak to the Person Gossiping About You - If you find out that you are the subject of some gossip, it is best deal with the perpetrators directly and to find out how far it has spread. Inform the person what you are aware that they have been gossiping about you in a negative way. Avoid becoming defensive, angry or aggressive to them and focus on getting the facts straight and removing any implied innuendos. While you are not obliged to provide any details or facts, letting them know the truth can often help. Tell them that you regard gossiping as dishonest and disrespectful. Maybe you should consider making people more aware of the facts and details about events and things that happen as gossip often seeps in to fill the information gaps, particularly concerning why something has happened and the motives or reasons for it.
Try to understand the root cause and why the gossip culture flourishes in your workplace - Why are some work environments tainted by gossip and rumours, which consuming valuable time and attention of employees, while other work places have much less gossiping? Inevitably, some level of gossip occurs wherever people gather and it is not necessarily unhealthy. Often when it reaches excessive levels and turns nasty, there are common causes: poor mechanisms for problem resolution, lack of clarity from managers about key issues and changes, a manager who gossips about their fellow managers, a 'dog-eat-dog' attitude about advancement, or a 'we versus us' mentality between groups and between managers and workers. Excessive and malicious gossip is a symptom that the health and culture of the office may need an overhaul. Find out why damaging gossip is occurring.
Develop a Way of Keeping People Informed about What is Happening and Why - People will fill voids, apply missing motives and reasons for changes that happen and deal with stress in the best way they know how. Talking with friends at work even about personal issues, reassures people they are " individually OK," and it's the other person with the problem. Fill the voids by communicating. Gossip flourishes when information is not broadcast. Managers should set aside time to keep employees informed as a group, or individually to discuss decisions and changes - such as office reallocation, changes in focus, promotions, and layoffs and any other matters employees may become anxiously about. Employees who are kept in the dark and not kept informed about changes may start gossiping to fill in the gaps with gossip.
Build a Culture that is Cooperative, Supportive and Helpful for Team Members - Try to foster an environment that promotes of good conversations and positive things providing help and support, especially if you’re the team leader. Develop ways of getting the group to support and help people especially if they are in trouble or going through a bad period in their lives. Of course, this is easier said than done and it depends on personalities. But, where mutual respect is showcased by managers and is encouraged in a group, an organization is less likely to be damaged by malicious gossip.
Make People Aware of the Consequences - Gossiping is the responsibility of both managers and staff. Counter the team wrecking outcome of gossiping with some team building. You cannot eliminate all the interpersonal chatter, but you can develop a culture of positive support and help for people who face problems. A manager and the team members should voice their concerns about gossip to the team or individuals.
Everyone should be made aware that gossip can create risks of liability for both employees and management. Employees who are the targets of office gossip may sue, making claims for the consequences in terms of human rights, bullying and impacts on reputations and careers. Employees may sue the company for not providing adequate protection. Employees who initiate or spread harmful gossip should also be warned that their behaviour is unacceptable. Gossiping is a form or harassment and has various consequences including termination.
Also employees should be reminded that their email communications are not private and may be recorded even after the delete button has been hit. This is standard practice now in many computer use policies. Employees should be reminded that emails are not the medium for gossip about fellow employees.
© 2012 Dr. John Anderson
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