I’ve always recommended avoiding small minds, thinking about small things, in small ways. There is no better example of this type of behavior than those who spread or participate in gossip.

At its core, gossip is the highest form of disloyalty, and it is far from innocent or idle. Nothing can claim more tainted reputations, destroyed friendships, and polluted corporate cultures than gossip.

Let me cut right to the chase – real leaders don’t participate in gossip, and likewise, they don’t tolerate gossip from others. Gossip destroys trust, assails credibility, and is one of the greatest adversaries of a healthy corporate culture. The emotional distress and political discord associated with gossip undermines workplace performance and can be nothing short of disastrous.

My question for leaders is this: do you want to create a culture of doubt or culture of leadership? If what you desire is to have a healthy, thriving, and productive company, it is essential that you curtail office gossip. Gossip is one of the most divisive undercurrents pervading business today. Gossip allows for the unnecessary dispersion of negative innuendo for the pleasure of a few, and to the detriment of many. Show me a person that participates in gossip and I’ll show you someone who cannot be trusted. People who participate in gossip oftentimes view their activity as being politically savvy when in fact gossip is the tool of insecure, rank amateurs.

It’s actually been trendy of late to take the position that participating in gossip affords opportunities to gather business intelligence, build relationships, etc. While these theories make for nice soundbites, they are at best a big stretch. In reality, they do little more than constituting more rhetoric attempting to rationalize and justify the poor character.

If you have to participate in gossip to feel plugged-in, liked, or informed, then your leadership ability is woefully lacking. Moreover, those who participate in gossip have a very real downside. Beyond being seen for what they are, gossip can easily become a form of bullying, which can quickly become an HR issue. Further, gossip can easily end-up putting you squarely in the crosshairs of your intended target escalating into litigation. The moral of the story here is that gossip often exacts a form of poetic justice creating worse damage upon the source of the gossip than was intended for the subject of the gossip.

I’ve written often on the importance of building solid relationships through displaying a consistency of character, creating a bond of trust, making good decisions, and striving to help others succeed. When you take part in gossip you do none of these things. In fact, gossip seriously undermines each one of the aforementioned success metrics by propagating poisonous information with the intent to inflict harm.

The best definition I’ve found for gossip is: “talking about a situation with somebody who is neither a part of the solution or a part of the problem.” If you have a problem with a person or take exception to a particular situation, go directly to the source.

There are few things in life I loathe as much as those that don’t have the courage and integrity to hit things head-on. If I have a problem with someone I give him or her the courtesy and respect of addressing the issue in private. Talking to anyone else wouldn’t resolve the issue; it would merely be self-serving indulgence at someone else’s expense. In fact, it is my opinion that the worst form of gossip is often conducted under the guise of seeking advice or counsel. If you need to seek the wisdom of a third party prior to addressing the root issue, do it generically and anonymously so as not to impugn the character of another.

To be clear, I’m not recommending the stifling of healthy discourse. I have nothing against forms of communication that are good-natured, inspiring, impassioned, productive, healthy, educational, informational, effective, etc. Most organizations have a history, and with history comes the mystique of folklore and legend. Every culture has stories to be told, heroes to be adored, villains to be chastened, and a variety of characters to acknowledge. The key is the intention behind the communication – is it meant to help or hurt, to advance or undermine, to build up or tear down? Gossip is simply not to be confused with other forms of communication – they are not one and the same.

Don’t fall prey to the delusion that leaking gossip online via social media is any less harmful or somehow different – it’s not. It’s perfectly fine to debate positional differences, but it’s not okay to attack someone personally in anonymity. If you feel the need to attack or belittle someone, take the discussion offline, as it’s not appropriate for a public forum.

As I mentioned above, gossip isn’t idle, nor is it innocent, cute, or something to be trivialized as insignificant. At best gossip creates unnecessary tension, but most often it creates outright conflict. For those of you who view yourself as a self-appointed judge and jury, a protector of the community, or simply as being above the rest of us, we know the truth… You are insecure, mean, jealous, or just addicted to drama. Mostly we know you get some sort of sick pleasure out of watching others suffer.

As a leader you wouldn’t likely tolerate gossip targeted at you, so if you allow gossip to be spread about others, what does this say about you? If gossip pervades your organization and you are not aware of it, then you clearly don’t have the pulse of your organization, your public statements about the importance of culture and morale will seem disingenuous, and you’re likely guilty of being what I refer to as a disconnected leader.

In the same fashion that being the source of gossip is destructive, so is furthering the damage by ratcheting up the rhetoric by participating in gossip. If someone comes to you about a problem with another person, immediately redirect that individual back to the person in question. If that doesn’t work, and you must get involved, offer to accompany the person with the problem in addressing the individual they have an issue with. As a leader, it is much more productive to aid in the solution rather than foster the problem.

I have watched many a well-intentioned executive get sucked into gossip in an attempt to help, only to pay a big price down the road for their error in judgment. If you want to be a long-term survivor in business I would suggest that you not participate in gossip and get rid of those that do. Remember that those individuals that will gossip to you, will also gossip about you…

Many would suggest that the thought of eliminating gossip in the corporate world is an exercise in naiveté. They would take the position that gossip is just part of human nature, and that gossip will always exist in any type of environment where social dynamics are present. The old saying “it is what it is” is only true until you decide to make a difference.

As a leader, it is incumbent upon you to do the right thing, which is to protect your reputation and those that you work with. Furthermore, allowing anyone under your charge to participate in any activity to the contrary makes you an accomplice in the decline of morale and the decay of your corporate culture. Put simply, good leaders don’t tolerate gossip – they eradicate it.

If you’re still inclined to partake in gossip let me leave you with the following three thoughts:

  • No worthwhile gain ever comes at another’s unjust expense;
  • It’s more profitable to do your own work than to be jealous of, tear down, or lay claim to the work of others, and;
  • Envy and a mean spirit never give birth to lasting joy.


Image credit: CBC

This article was originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/idle-gossip-thing-mike-myatt?trk=mp-reader-card