Let’s talk about gossip. The critical, cutting kind. The type of talk that, if heard by the colleague or manager about whom it is said, would cause him or her to feel upset, hurt, or betrayed.
Here are the top seven ways that people justify this type of gossiping (and shoot themselves in the foot while doing so). Which ones apply to you?
- It’s fun! There’s nothing like a bit of gossip to introduce spice, relieve stress and pass the time.
- It helps me process things. When I’m frustrated with a colleague or manager it really helps to talk things over with someone I can trust, a confidant. It makes me understand the problem better and get over it. And because I trust this person, I can truly allow myself to let it all out (in other words, be nasty with no restraints).
- They deserve it. The person that I’m gossiping about practically asked for it—their behaviour justifies me talking/complaining/gossiping about them.
- It’s easier to talk about it than to confront the person. The person who triggered my frustration is so difficult (or defensive, or aggressive) that it is simpler and more constructive to talk about them than to address the matter directly. Talking to that problematic person is futile and might even backfire.
- I need confirmation from someone objective. I need to hear that I am correct in my perception and justified in my upset.
- I (or we as a group) simply need to vent. I need to release steam or else I will explode. Venting is a healthy, normal and justified activity.
- Gossiping helps me to (unconsciously) gain dominance, control, or a strategic advantage. By pulling others into my discussion about the person’s shortcomings I am creating a mini community from which the person that we are talking about is excluded. I gain a position of importance within this group and an advantage over the person who is the subject of the discussion.
Alright, that’s it for the justifications. Are you ready for a strong opinion?
Here’s my take: we can conjure up dozens of justifications for our behaviour but none will change the simple fact that gossip is hurtful to the other person and erodes our own integrity. And dare I also mention that it creates an unpleasant, even poisonous, and certainly less productive work environment.
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News from the TYC book front:
Trust Your Canary: Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility is starting to make its way nicely in the world. Heartfelt thanks to those of you who have purchased it. I was practically in tears last week when, during a session for managers that I facilitated, folks showed up with their copy of the book looking well worn and filled with Post-it notes and other markings.
To celebrate the book’s launch, you’ll all be invited to a Google Hangout sometime this fall. Stay tuned!