Ask some one if they’re a gossip and you’re likely to receive a short, sharp burst of outrage and indignation, “Well of course I don’t gossip”. But as this article in Harvard Business Review points out, “ask them whether they have ever participated in a “confirmation expedition” — whereby they 1) ask a colleague to confirm their own negative or challenging experience with a third colleague who is not present, or 2) welcome a similar line of confirmation inquiry from another colleague about a third colleague who is not present, most admit that this is, in fact, a regular part of their daily work life.“
The erosion of trust, hurt feelings, decreased morale, damaged reputations, reduced personal and professional credibility, increased anxiety, divisiveness, and attrition. Just how often are you engaging in gossip, and contributing to gossip’s damaging effects?
As a kid I was super aware of this – I always felt uncomfortable when people spoke about others behind their back – it felt wrong and genuinely made me upset. Four great points to take from this article and the real underline is that leaders – and everyone in a business – need to be brave about this. It’s a toxic culture killer.
1) Name it, then pivot. First, call gossip “gossip” to stop it in its tracks. If you are engaging in “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present,” — especially if the aim is to confirm your experience rather than get constructive solutions — then you are participating in gossip. If you call someone on it, most people will step back at hearing a colleague say, “This sounds like gossip. Is that what you intended?” Second, pivot the conversation by asking, “How can I help you get a better outcome?” Only engage in coaching, brainstorming, and problem-solving conversations — not in problem-confirming ones.
2) Ask yourself or others why you need someone else’s confirmation about a behavior that you’re noticing in a third person. If it’s to justify your feelings, to confirm that you’re right, or to gain support for your point of view, don’t bring someone else into the conversation. If it’s to understand how you might be contributing to the dynamic or problem, to brainstorm helpful solutions, or to go on record to make a formal complaint for further investigation, then go for it.
3) Let people know that you have a policy of “if you have a problem with me, please tell me first.” Adopt the “tell them first” policy with your colleagues, and, when someone approaches you with gossip about someone else, ask “Have you already told her?” to remind them of this policy.
4) Create a feedback-rich environment around you. The more you normalize feedback — both positive and negative, and both giving and receiving — the less likely people will be to look for alternative means to express their frustrations and concerns. Rather than “saving” feedback for annual performance reviews, make discussions about what someone did well, and what he or she could do differently, a part of every supervision meeting or project debrief. And make sure to give people positive feedback when they offer particularly useful feedback — even if it’s hard to hear.