Are you the village gossip in your workplace?
Large organisations and small towns have one thing in common, namely the village gossip. We have all met them, that one person that is constantly going around trying to find out the dirt about other people or the latest on updates on whatever topic takes their fancy whether it is a company restructuring, internal relationships, bullying, promotions, you name it… they will know or find out about it.
I have often wondered what drives these people: is it low self-esteem, jealousy or begrudgery or even just an inate nosyness or curiosity about things that are quite frankly none of their business most of the time. They just can’t seem to help themselves, it’s as if it nearly a compulsion or something larger than them. They don’t tend to spare anyone, not even their closest friends as long as it serves in the pursuit of more (mostly useless) information. And guys, if you are reading this, the most damaging village gossips I have seen in action have been men, but the ladies tend to be more devious and cover their tracks better, but neither gender is immune to gossip mongering.
The scary part is that some company cultures thrive on gossip and deceit and they make for very stressful places to work in. I have seen people reduced to tears, confidence and all perspective of self-worth eroded purely down to office gossips being let damage reputations of great individuals. When you don’t know the source of the venom it is hard to counteract and manage your reputation and if then management buys into the rumours often not based on any fact, you become less and less trusting and in most cases you will start questioning yourself and your abilities for no reason.
What the village gossip doesn’t realise is that people around the office soon or eventually find out who was the rumour starter and they become branded as someone that cannot be trusted. I always hope that at some level they have a conscience that balks at the horror of spreading lies and that when they get caught out badly enough they will actually change their ways. However if it is a compulsive mental disorder, there is only professional help and not just management that needs to intervene.
When I used to work in an office, I used to have great fun setting the village gossip up with outrageous things, to see how long it would take before it would come back to you, usually completely distorted and out of proportion. I don’t suggest it as an approach to use as a rule, especially not if it can potentially hurt other people, but if the village gossip is the only one out of the information loop, they may actually learn the lesson.
Gossiping in general is bad for office morale, it encourages negative and political game playing and tends to only serve only those who start the rumours and it damages people’s reputations and careers sometimes beyond belief. At the same time there is a distinction between gossip and genuine concern or frustration with situations and people, which is always the case in offices where a group of people work together.
So how do you avoid it?
As a personal policy, only ever go on facts as opposed to hearsay and ask the gossip distributor whether it is fact or fiction, they usually have no answer for it if it isn’t fact. There is no better way to shut them up than to point out the facts objectively and calmly or just to question them whether they have it from a reputable source.
If you are the individual that is prone to gossip, my suggestion is a count to 10 silence policy and only when you have factual evidence to back up your communication do you allow yourself to talk. It may take a bit of lip biting and shortened sentences, but in the end of the day it is better for your personal reputation. Gossip tends to be seen as a sign of weakness and lack of backbone, so I guess it is a choice whether you want to be trustworthy or to be avoided as a person in your career.
As an office policy encourage 0 tolerance to gossiping and when and where you can intervene by calling the village gossip into your office and explaining that you don’t tolerate rumours and ask upfront if they have an issue with you or in the office they care to share or vent about. Equally nip rumours in the bud by holding communication meetings both formally and informally to put an end to speculation. As a manager keep an open door policy for people to ask question regarding changes etc and answer them with facts. It may take a bit of effort to eradicate a gossip culture, but be proactive and reactive at the same time and stick to the factual evidence either way.