We all know the dangers of gossip in life and within families, but in organizations it’s particularly damaging. Considering we all spend most of our lives at work, rampant — and even subtle — gossip quickly evolves to becoming the absolute best way to kill off all joy for both the organization’s leadership and team members.
We’ve seen this throughout history. The early stages of the Christian church were peaceful, joyful and tranquil until gossip began spreading misinformation in Judea about why Jesus came and His overall purpose.
Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”
Later on in the passage, we see that this misinformation eventually became a huge distraction to the disciples, and it took significant time and attention away from their mission work and other important efforts.
Creativity and innovation disappear, and constant drama jumps into the driver’s seat and speeds off like it’s driving a runaway train.
Dave Ramsey defines gossip
as “discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.” This goes beyond speaking negatively about someone who isn’t present, but anything taking place within the company.
In my experience there are two things required for a gossip-free workplace:
A clear and well-enforced policy. Everyone must abide (including leadership!) to a clearly-written warning at the first offense. In the past, I didn’t enforce a gossip policy because I’d often find myself feeling badly if someone offered a tearful apology. Or, sometimes I’d let myself feel guilty if the gossip was spurred by a mistake I made.
In turn, I’d end up making excuses for the behavior and letting it continue, which was a painfully poor decision that was very difficult (and in some situations impossible) to undo.
A open door philosophy that everyone believes in. If the team is not allowed to gossip, there has to be a way for them to bring up concerns. As our organization grew, I realized it was important to not only continually communicate that I was available for any important issues that came up, but to actually sit down with all team members at least a few times a year with no agenda except to see what I could be doing better.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I often received constructive feedback during those interactions. While at first I may have instinctually felt defensive, I’d just take notes and process later. After taking some time I’d go back and read my notes again once I had a chance to think about it from another perspective.
We all know it’s difficult to express unpleasant feelings constructively, so as leaders we need to make giving upward feedback as easy as possible on our teams. When we receive this feedback, it’s up to us to proactively change things that prevent joyfulness within our organizations.
New policies for providing feedback via an open door takes practice! Complaining and criticism feels good to the gossiper in the moment, but as you and I both know, it develops a culture of stress and strain on everyone involved that prevents each person’s true potential from being realized.
You can have the very best product, amazing people, beyond thrilled customers, but if there is constant criticism, that happiness will be elusive for everyone.
Contrast that with the energy, passion and excitement felt within a team that is fueled by openness and respect. That level of positivity is joyful to experience and is unstoppable.
As a result of ending gossip chains, you’ll be attracting individuals who want to be part of a positive culture that empowers others. Creativity will now flow freely throughout your organization. Team members are more joyful knowing that they are contributing to a greater good and reaching their full potential.
As leaders it’s critical we always make joy our top priority.
Have you experienced gossip in the workplace? What did you do to resolve it?