Few of us can resist engaging in gossip. I’m not sure why, but if we reflect on our day yesterday, my guess is that many of our conversations involved tidbits of information about others (all justified, of course). Perhaps all of us could learn a few tips from my adopted pup, Louie, on this subject.
Louie and I were taking our usual early morning walk and the sun had not quite risen. As we were rounding a bend, we heard voices, which gradually escalated. I continued walking as we passed a couple who were in the middle of a disagreement while walking toward their respective cars. Louie’s ears perked up as he gave an alert signal-or more of a “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” signal. He wanted nothing to do with this couple and took off in the opposite direction.
I, on the other hand, lingered for a few minutes and pulled him back, hoping he would take a potty break. Why? Because I wanted to listen in! I didn’t even know this couple, but I wanted to peek into their world long enough to learn all about this conflict. But Louie was determined to get as far away as possible…so I turned and headed in the direction he wanted to go-away from the arguing couple.
Louie’s (and most humans’) aversion to conflict is future material. This was different. This was not MY conflict that I needed to deal with but rather someone else’s conflict, which I wanted to enter into from a safe distance as a fly on the wall. As you read this, you are probably agreeing with me that you do the same thing. Why is that?
There is something in human nature that can’t resist throwing ourselves into someone else’s drama. And with limited information, we decide to share what little we know about the situation with others, mainly to make us feel good about ourselves. After all, we aren’t arguing with someone as we walk to the car-so there must be something wrong with those people, not with us, right?
But when we display this behavior at work, it destroys a team. And when a leader is the one who instigates gossip, they cultivate an unhealthy, distrustful culture. An article in Harvard Business Review stated, “Gossip is not a problem; it’s a symptom. The symptom disappears when a critical mass of leaders stop enabling it, create trust in healthy communication channels, and invest in building employees’ skills to use them.” I know that to establish a “no-gossip zone,” leaders must:
- Model a no-gossip policy in their own lives
- Not engage in others’ drama
- Refuse to listen to others when they start to gossip
- Step back and ask themselves, “What is going on with me that I feel the need to share this information?”
These are just a few no-gossip strategies, but they offer a good place to check our own behavior. Louie had the right idea: turn and walk the other way. Don’t get involved in other’s business unless invited for counsel. Use your words to build up and affirm people; be careful about what you say. I believe this proverb says it best: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.”
Whether you are a leader or team-mate, if you have even a slight inkling you should not share something about another person-STOP! Don’t do it! Turn and walk away. Establish a no-gossip zone for your entire organization, and you’ll see a difference in your organizational culture