The Dangers of Gossip in the Workplace
It may seem harmless. It may seem like meaningless chitchat in a common area that centers around the little (or big) things one notices a colleague doing (or not) while at work, harmless venting. It could be personal, professional, or a combination of the two. It is many times second-hand information not confirmed, which somehow transcends its way into perceived workplace performance. It is the speculation of others. Either way, it can all be considered a form of gossip which can be detrimental to any environment.
How does one tell the difference between idle chatting and gossip? Knowing the difference is extremely important in a healthy organization because it can be dangerous and even destructive in the workplace and at its worst could potentially ruin a career. Light conversation has a neutral charge as one would say in the science world. There is no value in its information and more importantly it involves statements one would be willing to say in front of the person they are speaking of. Workplace gossip on the other hand is almost always negatively charged, inflammatory, and potentially embarrassing to the person being spoken of. It often comes with the intent of confirming anxious feelings, creating conflict, and reveling in the misfortune of others with the most important factor being it is something that would neverbe said on front of that person.
In order to really know the difference, ask yourself “what is my intent”. If it simply to notify a colleague of a rumored change in personnel, is that harmful? If the comments are hurtful, damaging or if there is no good will behind them then yes, it is gossip. Gossip is synonymous with fabrication or embellishment and so many times what is heard is not even accurate. When this inaccuracy hits a supervisor, it can have adverse side effects on an entire organization. Many times it does nothing but increase internal conflict and decrease moral which almost always leads to decreased productivity.
Elizabeth Layne, contributing writer for the “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” notes that although workplace gossip occasionally provides insight into the understanding of office nuances and personalities as well as colleague relationships, it often hurts the individuals involved and damages groups. It is usually meant to undermine the person who is the target of it and boost the reputation of the person relaying it. As discussed in the article below “Stop Complaining About Your Colleagues Behind Their Backs”, we use gossip as a way to collect evidence that confirms our beliefs because of the satisfaction that comes from being right. In fact, the brain can be physiologically hooked on it. “The flood of adrenaline and dopamine that that accompanies feeling right can become downright addictive”, Judith Glaser explains.
It is said that Human Resources Managers may spend as much as thirty percent of their time listening to complaints stemmed from gossip that have no validity, therefore decreasing the efficiency of the department with no progression coming from the complaint itself.
As parents, we are quite aware of the detrimental effects idle gossip can have on our children’s psyche. It can be paralyzing. We coach them on how to prevent it, how to deal with it, and how to rectify relationships – yet as adults we somehow see the workplace as being a place it is permissible. If one has ever been the target of workplace gossip, the experience is extremely uncomfortable at best. It can immediately transport us back to middle school and incite insecurity on many levels. If the place in which one spends at least one-third of their day becomes hostile it will no doubt trickle down to other areas of life. Simply not lending an earto the office gossip can significantly cut down on the amount. Refusing to repeatcan have an even greater impact and earning the trust of your co-workers by keeping confidentialthe information with which they entrust to you can all lead to an environment free of toxic conversation. While we will never be free of workplace gossip entirely, the best place to start may be with what we heard as kids, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Integrated People Solutions is an executive placement firm in Denver, Colorado, and is part of the Kennedy Executive Network
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