I saw an article this morning on MSN.com on solving workplace dilemmas. You can see the entire article here.
Gossip is one of the dilemmas discussed in the article. Here’s a what is said:
Dilemma: Office gossip
Gossip not only contributes to hostility and pessimism in the
workplace, but it also causes ‘cliques’ within the company. To better
this situation, management should confront the issue, McCann says.
Provide statistics on how gossip negatively affects people and take
action by putting up flyers that say "No Gossip Zone" in conspicuous
"When an approach like this is used, the negative ones
weed themselves out," McCann says. "They either conform to a more
positive work environment or they move on to a place where their kind
of behavior is accepted."
I feel mixed about this advice. To say, simply, this is a no gossip zone, seems to me to miss a deeper situation often at play in the workplace.
First, let me say, I’m not advocating destructive talk. I agree that excessive and pervasive negativity is a killer, period. However, in many organizations "talk" which resembles gossip can be quite important for a leader hear and learn from.
Here’s the deal: people talk. Get over it. Remember, I’m against negativity that is damaging. But, there is often something within office conversations that reveals real issues that need to be addressed. If a leader says, "hey, we don’t talk about the company’s issues; keep your comments to yourself," that does two things.
1) It suggests the leader is insecure about something
2) It simply sends the conversation underground
James Bergquist in his book, The Postmodern Organization, discusses the value of gossip. Yes, the value. Again, don’t get destructive conversation mixed into your thinking when you hear this idea. No one values that. Yet, the conversations that occur in the office are chalk full of important information about the way your employees view you, your organization and themselves.
When you say, "don’t talk," you are sending the wrong message. A better path is to create conversational spaces with your employees where you invite them, through thoughtful questions, to tell you some of what they usually keep to themselves. Will this stop the destructive gossip? Not all of it. But, it will, over time, make it more difficult for destructive gossip to gain hold of your employees. Why? Employees that are invited to talk, and listened to, have a harder time destroying their boss, organization or co-workers with their words. In other words, inviting people to speak their minds (even if what’s in their mind is wrong) creates ownership. And ownership, creates a caring spirit.
Don’t post a sign and stay in your office. Leave your office and send the signal that you want to be a part of the conversational stream of your employees. Sure, you will alwasy be an outsider to some degree. But you will gain important insights and the confidence of people if you listen rather than squelch.
1) People are going to talk
2) What you do will either create subversion (underground gossip) or inclusion (you hearing and yes, shaping those conversations, providing insight, and making changes based on what you learn).
It’s your choice.
I fully agree with the idea that a “no gossip zone” sign sends the wrong message. In fact, I sometimes wonder if a little gossip should be encouraged in an effort to help people reduce the anxiety they tend to feel when they keep everything to themselves, only to discover that it comes out sideways at the worst possible moment. With that said, I have seen gossip do its share of damage as well. As with so many things, perhaps the key is finding balance — between damaging gossip and healthy venting that allows employees to hear their own voice, while at the same time receive constructive feedback that moves everyone back to a more positive place in their mind and heart.
In my own world, I’ve walked in on numerous gossip sessions among my staff, including gossip about myself – however, the talk rarely stops when I walk in, instead I hear, “oh good you’re here, YOU’RE MAKING US CRAZY….” I truly cringe in these moments, because here it comes… I’m going to hear how I’ve probably been leading from the worst inside of me, in one area or another, and now I’ll have to make some changes in myself.