It’s just like SUGAR!
In a recent assessment I asked a staff member if there is a lot of gossip in her workplace. She responded by asking me to describe what I meant by gossip. That is actually a great question.
How do you define gossip? Maybe you came up with a definition similar to what you’d find in a dictionary: “Idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others." Maybe you came up with a quote: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” - Henry Thomas Buckle Or perhaps you came up with something that embodies the titillation of gossip: “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” - Alice Roosevelt Longworth Most organizations or groups have some level of what may be defined as gossip. We all know gossip can be damaging and slowly wear and tear at the framework that keeps a group, team or family cohesive and high performing. This is how I define gossip. You know you’re participating in gossip when: -Information you are sharing is emotional and not pure fact.
-You feel an energy (titillation) that makes it really hard to hold the information within causing you to want to pass it on.
-Somewhere inside you there is a voice questioning if it is right, healthy or productive to pass it on, but you do it anyway.
-After you walk away from the exchange you feel a little sense of shame, remorse or guilt.
-You benefit more from sharing it than the subject benefits.
-The information distracts or detracts from what the organization is trying to achieve.
-You hear yourself starting the sentence with, “If she would standing here, I’d say this to her face…”
-The sharing helps you feel validated by confirming your negative stories or fears. Your story ends with “See, I told you he was untrustworthy”, or “I knew his plan would blow up in his face”, or “I told you they’d be a horrible parent!”
-The information minimizes someone who has something you secretly covet or desire. “Did you hear, she just bought a new Jaguar? I heard from my neighbor that they owe everyone in town money." “Yup. He looks great. He lost 20 pounds, but my sister’s cousin said that he is having an affair." “She got a promotion but do you see how she flirts with the boss all the time?” “I don’t want to cause trouble, but I think you need to know that everyone is saying she is a horrible manager."
When I think about positive culture and climate in a workplace or within a team, I imagine a savings account. You can make deposits in the savings account and build it up to be strong and healthy, even enjoy the benefit of a little interest. Or you can make repeated withdrawals from the account – depleting the savings and gaining no interest or dividends.
Gossip is a withdrawal from the healthy climate and culture of a workplace.Gossip breaks down trust.
Even if you are feeling connected and involved because you are the one who always has the “inside scoop”, how many people actually then trust you with what really matters? Will they depend on you when a situation calls for complete focus and no drama? And how many people have been hurt or alienated by the gossip? How much time do you spend mending fences?
At one organization, a highly valued employee who strives day in and day out to not engage in gossip revealed that he was actually considering leaving the work he loves because he felt so isolated from his colleagues. He stated that he just felt it was against his morals and values to participate in gossip. Is that the employee you want leaving your team?
We all, myself included, are drawn to gossip. Sometimes believing that someone else is struggling, challenged, flawed or weak makes us temporarily feel better about ourselves.
“Isn't it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?”
- Sean Covey
But how long does the boost from the titillation of gossip last? And how authentic is it? Gossip is like refined sugar. You crave it because you need a boost. It has no nutritional or long-term value. You start eating it, your mood spikes temporarily, then it dips and then you need another dose. And suddenly you are caught in a vicious cycle.
We all have an important role in turning around the negative climate and culture of a workplace, family or team. Being aware of what gossip means to you and then intentionally breaking your gossip habit is one the most powerful ways you can positively impact your own experience – even when you feel powerless.
Here is a path to get clean from the gossip addiction:
1. Jot down what exactly gossip “looks like”, “sounds like” and “feels like” to you. 2. List all the ways you perceive you benefit from participating in conversations or exchanges that are similar to what you described above. 3. List all the ways those exchanges distract you or drain your energy. 4. List all the ways those exchanges alienate you from others (hurt feelings, disconnection from those who choose not to participate in gossip, break down of trust, etc.) 5. Now write down how your day would be different if you magically no longer had the ability to participate in gossip? Would you have less drama? More laughter? Would you have more time to do what you enjoy? Would you have less negativity? How would you be different in the world? 6. Proactively create a phrase or sentence that you will use when someone else approaches you to engage in gossip. One that is particularly handy is to simply say; “I’ve decided that I want to bring more positive energy into my life so I’m going to not engage in gossip. But I’d love to hear something that is going well for you!” Practice saying this.
People may have a reaction to this at first but in time they will either see the benefit of your new practice (more energy, less distraction, greater respect from others, etc.) and jump on board or they will find another outlet for their gossip (and you may be the fodder for a time).
“People will have thoughts about you. And that is the end of the sentence."
Clients ask me all the time if I will be able to turn around the culture in their office and I always answer with the truth, “No. But you can. And I will help you."
And the first step is simple but true – break your own gossip addiction.