Allowing gossip in the workplace is like encouraging your employees to swim with sharks. 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, undermines credibility, and is one of the greatest adversaries of a healthy corporate culture.  While the emotional distress associated with gossip can be dealt with fairly easily, the political discord that can erupt in an organization can be nothing short of disastrous. In today’s post, I’ll share my thoughts on how to control gossip in the workplace…

My question is this: as a leader, do you want to create a culture of doubt or a culture of leadership? If what you desire as an executive 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 as it 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…

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

The best definition I’ve found for gossip is: “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 them the courtesy and respect of addressing the issue with them. 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 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.

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. 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.

I have watched many well-intentioned executives 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 naivete. 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.

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

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

As always, I welcome your comments below – I am particularly interested in any examples of effective methods you’ve used to curtail gossip, or how gossip has adversely impacted you or someone you know.