How to Stop Workplace Gossip

Workplace gossip can stop team performance in it's tracks. Use these tips to be the best leader you can and role model for others how to avoid the gossip trap

Workplace gossip is common and is devastating to companies. Within the 2% of companies who make it to high-performance status, harmful gossip is non-existent. It's not tolerated, because they are too engaged in working on things that matter. Because their focus is on driving people up, not driving each other down.

Workplace gossip destroys the second of our 4Bs of high-performance leadership: Belonging. (Access the free "Tools to Improve Employee Performance" training) for more on the 4Bs and how to lead your team to high-performance by using them.

If you are a gossip
or let gossip flourish in your team

it will damage your career.

How much time are you losing by complaining and gossiping?

For example, how much time have you wasted, in long conversations, complaining to others about ... 

  • the assistant who isn't as helpful as he could be, or
  • your partner who isn't as loving as you'd like, or 
  • how you just know another department has a hidden agenda, that conflicts with your team's goals, or
  • a colleague who is a train wreck when it comes to keeping their promises, or
  • your boss who is piling way too much work on you and is an absolute a*!hole to boot!

Most of us intuitively realize that people who are gossips do not have an inner world that is healthy and rich.

If someone is a workplace gossip, it is because they feel insecure/inadequate. They have a low sense of self-worth and are desperate to find some way of feeling better about themselves. And the fastest way of doing this is by putting other people down.

Contrast this with a person who shies away from gossip. These people are too busy focusing on being the best they can, on making their dent in the universe.

Think of someone you know who seems to stay away from workplace gossip

  • Would you say that that person is reasonably secure within their own self?
  • Is this a person who seems to have a good sense of their own self?
  • Is this person quite successful?
  • Do others look upon him or her with high regard and is s/he well liked?
  • Is this a happy person?
  • Is this someone you would want as your leader?

Contrast that with a person who is a known workplace gossip.

  • Does this person seem to continually try to find fault with others to make him or herself look better?
  • Is this person well-liked and trusted?
  • Is the vibe around this person pleasant or unpleasant?
  • Do you think this is a happy person?
  • Is this someone you would want as your leader?

Workplace gossip causes lack of trust in relationships

Gossipmongers aren't trusted. I bet you've caught yourself wondering, as you walk away from a gossiper: "I wonder what s/he says about me when I'm not around?"

workplace gossip undermines trust

Worried about gossip in your workplace? Consider being coached by me in how to handle it.

Every relationship builds from a foundation of trust, reliability, and integrity.

As a leader, you are responsible for developing healthy relationships, both with your direct reports, your colleagues and your senior leaders.

Involving yourself in workplace gossip is a surefire way to undermine your credibility as a person and as a leader.

As tempting as it is to talk about others ... STOP IT!

It doesn't serve you or them.

Try this exercise

Have you ever tried going seven days without talking about another person, period?

Try it, but don't be surprised if you can't get past the first hour without finding yourself talking about someone who isn't a part of the conversation!

Workplace gossip stops performance improvement

A big problem, when you take part in workplace gossip, is that you are telling the wrong person. Invariably you are telling a person who can't improve the performance.

Gossiping may make you feel good in the moment, (you got some frustration off your chest) but it doesn't make the issue go away, does it? Nor does it build powerful performance!

If your workplace is filled with gossip, you can almost guarantee that it is under-performing

Gossip is one of the most significant causes of distrust, and consequently under-performance in any business

What sets high-performance leaders apart from others, is that they:

  • Accept responsibility for developing healthy relationships
  • Always go straight to the person with whom they have an issue and discuss it
  • Focus on getting the relationship and performance back on track, fast

High-performance "Rockstar" leaders teach others how to resolve issues in a safe way

As a leader, it is not your role to be a sounding board for complaining and gossip in the workplace ... nor to solve people's issues for them. Instead, it is your role to coach and guide people to resolve their issues with others, quickly and successfully.

Allowing people to complain to you encourages under-performance

Here's how you stop others from gossiping to you

Here is an example of one of the skills you will learn in the "Successful Feedback" training that helps put the brakes on workplace gossip.

Imagine Mary is complaining to you about Jim.

A high-performance Leader would ask a question such as: "Are you telling me this so I can coach you in how to work through this problem with Jim? Or, shall we find him so we can all discuss it together?"

Do this in a supportive way. Your intention is to develop the skills within your team so issues are resolved quickly. You don't want to punish, nor to let issues bubble and fester until they turn into volcanic proportions.

If the person's response is, "No I just want to vent." Then say something like, "Look, that doesn't serve you, me or Jim. I'm happy to work with you to find some solutions you could discuss with Jim. But I don't want to get caught up in venting sessions".

When you do this consistently, your people will know that they can trust you. That you won't talk about them unless they are present. It will be one of the greatest acts of leadership that you can do - also one of the most unusual!

There are two things you should be aware of when listening to workplace gossip:

  • 1
    You are hearing the other person's rule book. Their interpretations, prejudices, biases and fears etc. You don't know what other events have passed between Jim and Mary.  You are only hearing one interpretation of the story.
  • 2
    Once you have listened to Mary's gossip, you may have a contaminated view of Jim. Even if you didn't want or mean to, some part of you may believe the gossip. You may very well start to look for those negative traits in Jim and find them! This is very dangerous. Read more about how your focus impacts on the results you get.

What type of leader and person are you?

You will be able to find a lot of well-justified reasons for gossiping (or whatever name you want to call it). However if you are dedicated to being a "Rockstar" Leader, then ask yourself:

  • "Is this gossip bringing out the best in me, the best in the person I am gossiping to and the best in the person we are gossiping about?"
  • "How much more powerful will I be if I speak only with integrity?"
  • "How much stronger will I lead when I choose to not listen to gossip?"

In the Moment Of Choice you need to decide who am I? Am I a Message or a Warning?

What to do when you find yourself involved in workplace gossip

It is the high-performance leadership way to be the person to put a stop to the gossip. Which is fairly easy when you are dealing with your direct reports. You won't find it overly challenging to say, "Hey, I don't talk about others unless they are present. And in our team I expect you to do the same.

However, it may become more problematic when you are amongst your peers or your leadership, and they are 'bagging' another person or group.

Use your best influence skills and let them know you prefer to focus on solutions. And that it would be best to have the other party involved in the conversation to get it fixed. It might be at this time that you will need to have a conversation with your Prostitute!

If, directly confronting the gossip, seems too unsafe, your other options are to change the topic, or find a reason to excuse yourself from the conversation. 

Don't stand there with your ears open! Even listening to it will seem like you approve of it.

So, either ask for a topic change or just walk away from the situation.

As you are role-modeling being a "gossip-free zone", your team's performance will shift. People will begin to notice that there's a great vibe going on in your team. They'll get curious and want to know what's different in your team. And that's when you can share with them your 'put-down-free zone' non-negotiable.

In the "Starting Your Ideal Leadership Role With A Bang" training, you are asked to create your non-negotiables. Then share them with your team. Whilst this training is designed for someone who is starting a new role the exercises in the program may benefit you.

When you are the one gossiping

Should you find yourself talking negatively about someone else, forgive yourself your humanity. None of us are perfect. However, be mindful to own your part of the story. Maybe you could say something like:

"I know this is unhealthy and I am gossiping, I am stepping out of my integrity, but I just need to vent. Can you listen to me and then offer me an alternative viewpoint. Or help me to develop a strategy so I can raise my concerns with the other person in more constructively."

Truthfully though, the best advice is: keep your mouth closed until you can find a way to speak about the other person. No matter what they have done, you must find a way to talk with them that honors both yourself and the other person.

The question I ask myself when I find I'm fuming about someone is, "If I am being a "Rockstar Leader" what positive things would I look for in this person, and what would I do in this moment?"

Admittedly, at times that can be very, challenging, especially if someone has done something hurtful or very annoying. However, the definition of unconditional love is to "look through the eyes of your higher source and find the good". It's always there. Just sometimes the good is buried underneath the gunk that is life. 

- Use this question as your mantra -

If I am being a "Rockstar" leader, what positive things would I look for in this person, and what would I do in this moment?

Asking a question like this doesn't mean that you give in/give up/become a marshmallow.

Instead, it starts to put you in a mindset that sets a more positive tone/vibe for any conversation/interaction you might have with this person. Get your mindset right and that will lead to positive result .... rather than an escalation of the problems.

Gossip in the workplace Awareness Activity

  • 1
    What excuses might you have been using to justify your reasons for talking about someone else?
  • 2
    How would you like to respond, from today forward, when someone starts talking to you about another person?
  • 3
    How does workplace gossip affect your connection with others? How would you like your relationships to be?
  • 4
    What do you think of people who gossip to you? Do you trust them?
  • 5
    As you gossip about another person ask yourself, what poison am I spreading? What will this person now think of the person I am gossiping about? Is that fair?
  • 6
    How do you feel after you have gossiped about someone? If you were being your best version, what could you have done differently with the time you've just spent bagging someone.
  • 7
    List the reasons why it feels good to gossip about others. Are these reasons like chocolate or chips - feel good but not the healthiest of choices?
  • 8
    What can you do to enhance your sense of self, so you don't feel the urge to bring others down? Instead, you have a positive impact.

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