Fire and swords are slow engines of destruction, compared to the tongue of a Gossip. – Richard Steele

Two Girls GossipingGossip is toxic fuel to a bad corporate culture. I was reminded of this last week when a subscriber asked for tips on dealing with gossip. She writes:

I feel surrounded by “toxic” co-workers that…  like to talk bad about all other leaders. Hearing them involved in all the office gossip and trash talking with their assumptions about these people make me nervous… I feel as though they will trash talk me…. How do I deflect and stay focused?

Gossip is defined as “Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” So not all gossip is bad. The problem is that most gossip consists of unflattering rumors. Unflattering and unsubstantiated rumors are the gossip that will  kill your culture.

Help the Gossip Target

Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed. – Erica Jong

Most gossip has some aspect of truth to it. If not truth, then perception. As many say, perception is reality until dis-proven. Therefore, you have an opportunity to serve the organization by dispelling the gossip through support of the targeted individuals.

1. Encourage Consistent & Transparent Communication

When someone is targeted by gossip, there is a good chance the rumors circulate around false motives. Encourages targets of gossip to produce more communication with an emphasis on transparency.

2. Highlight Areas Lacking Support

Without revealing names or specific gossip, let the leader know general areas within which they should build more support.

3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes

It may seem cliche, but if you were the target of gossip, what would you want to know?

By no means should you become a “tattle tail”. However, some careful communications and support of your leadership can help squash bad gossip and improve your culture.

Help the Gossiper

Gossipers often seek attention. Don’t give attention for gossip and you will soon find less gossip in your office. That said, here are some tips to help others break this bad habit:

1. Do Not Act Judgmental

Be careful not to alienate the gossiper by seeming self-righteous. After all, we have our own weaknesses and likely engage in our own gossip on occasions. Therefore, when asked, “What did you hear?” or otherwise encouraged to gossip yourself, consider responses such as:

“Nothing I can confirm.”

“I’m waiting for them to give an update on that issue.”

2. Stick to the Facts…

The best way to counter gossip, is with facts. You could even have an interest in the notion of the gossip, but respond with, “I’d love to know the facts behind that… have you seen any data on the topic yet?”

3. Change the Topic

When all else fails and you are not comfortable confronting the gossiper head on, defer by changing the topic.

Gossip can be very destructive. Allowed to run unchecked, it will hurt your culture, waste resources and damage leadership credibility. With some careful resistance to gossipers and support of leadership, you can reinforce a more positive culture.

Question: How do you deal with gossip at your office?