Gossip tends to be talk that gains attention for the speaker. The speaker will often adopt a confidential tone and is using the information about somebody else to be the center of attention and will impart the details in a way that tries to undermine the credibility or likability of another person. The details may be given with moralizing undertones and character assassination may be the top of the gossip's agenda. Often you are told more personal details than you care to know about. The motivations behind gossip include attention-seeking, self-inflation, exaggeration and a me-versus-them mentality;
Grapevine gossip: This is gossip pertaining to general change occurring within a workplace. Someone started it and now it is running about like wildfire. Usually this happens in an uncertain environment and is fueled by fear, poor communications from management levels and wild guesses by staff. It is less personal than gossip attacking another person but is as equally damaging and demoralizing.
As a manager, it`s your job to ensure the department achieves all of its goals and objectives. This can be difficult to do if you`re stepping into a situation where workplace gossiping has been allowed to run rampant.
Negative gossip can create productivity issues, morale issues, employee engagement and turnover issues, even liability issues when pervasive gossip is deemed `malicious harassment.`
How To Stop Negative Office Gossip
- Arm yourself with the facts. Is there truth to the tall tales` Sometimes there is a kernel of truth and this should be uncovered before addressing the problem so that you are well placed to respond with facts rather than emotions. This is especially important in relation to change management gossip where wild ideas take root quickly and spread even faster; look for factual answers by asking questions of the right people, namely, those who are in a position to give definitive and accurate answers. You may also need to seek additional facts from trustworthy sources such as internal bulletins, official publications and meeting minutes if there is gossip about changes or redundancies that might sideswipe your response.
- Address the specific perpetrators. Your first action should be to stop negative gossip on a personal level by directly addressing the key gossipers one-on-one. Do this in a confidential location and not where others can overhear the discussion, such as a conference room with a door you can shut. Your goal is to help the person understand the impact of their behavior and the consequences of what will happen if their bad behavior continues (such as a written warning that will go into their personnel file, demotion, loss of job, etc.).
- Meet with your entire team. After addressing the specific perpetrators individually, the next step is to discuss the situation with your entire team. This can be done by including `gossip` as a topic for discussion in a staff meeting and helping the team understand the differences between negative gossip and positive gossip and the ramifications of each. Then, work with your team to change the department culture to one that encourages positive gossip.
- Encourage positive gossip. Positive gossip can actually be good for companies and employees. This is when managers and employees share positive stories. Positive gossip can also be about individual employees, such as sharing actions where employees went out of their way to help a customer or communicating (department-wide or even company-wide) when an employee comes up with a phenomenal product or product improvement idea that results in a patent. Take time at every staff meeting to share positive gossip stories to encourage positive behavior.
- Model the behavior you want to see. As a manager, if you previously gossiped in the break room with others, that behavior must stop. Employees will look to you for what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, and you need to ensure you are `walking the talk` at all times and leading by example. Changing yours and others` bad habits isn`t easy, but once you do so you may just find that your department becomes the role model for other departments throughout the company.
- This one is a `Don`t.` don`t encourage trying to stop negative office gossip at an all-employee level, such as by sending out an email blast to all employees that `office gossip won`t be tolerated` or trying to address the issue during an all company meeting. Doing so generally isn`t effective because it fails to address the specific offenders ` and often causes good employees to shake their heads and wonder why the management team is conflict averse. Instead, provide managers with training on dealing with conflict and encourage all managers to address negative gossipers immediately and directly.
Address workplace change gossip with speed, support and honesty. During times of rapid change and uncertainty in a workplace, gossip will naturally increase due to fear and anticipated negative outcomes. It is important to realize this and to sort the fear factor from the facts. If you are a team leader, be a source of reassurance to your team by acknowledging their fears and worries. Armed with prior researched facts, tell them what you do know; equally tell them what you don't know and do not make things up. When you don't know something, tell them that you'll find out. Be the rock that supports them and diverts gossip back on itself.