DESIGNING A GREAT WORKPLACE EXPERIENCE _When close friends go awry: What to do about gossip in the workplace?

I said it before and I say it again. At workplace you don’t have real friends and you never will. In the best case scenario you eventually get close to somebody you enjoy working with, you team up very well when working on projects, collaboration is awesom but that’s all, that person is not your friend for real. It is your favorite co-worker. And the sentiment is most likely mutual. Doing a great job together with a colleague is called teamwork or great collaboration, but that’s not equal with friendship. The reason why you won’t have friends at workplace is that at one point in time you won’t always do the work for the same projects and innevitably not necessary because of your “friend” people will start to gossip either about you or your friend or about both of you. And when gossip is spreading, one day your ” friend” will receive it about you as well, then he/she begins to have doubts as well. You personally cannot do much to change that, even if you know exactly what the truth is. People will gossip anyway.

No discussion of workplace friendship would be complete without addressing a legitimate concern that many managers hold about encouraging close employee relationships: the spread of office gossip. When you enhance people’s comfort level working together, you also increase their willingness to share thoughts and feelings they might otherwise keep to themselves. Occasionally, those include unflattering impressions of other employees or managers around the office. Gossip can have a debilitating effect on a workplace. It breeds distrust between colleagues, siphons time away from important projects,and injures company morale. Left unchecked, it can contribute to a culture of fear and anxiety.

However if you are the team leader is your responsability to foster this open communication and meanningful connections within your crew and create a work environment where everybody can share insight freely and as comfortable as possible. Just make them gossip less. At least you can do the following 4 things:

  • Provide them with opportunities to grow their knowledge & skills.
  • Communicate hosnestly & frequently with each employee in your group.
  • Show appreciation for each member of your team.
  • Investigate ways you can show respect in the workplace

Before anything alse let’s define Gossip. What is it?

Gossip = Talking about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.

Gossip can be:

  • About work habits, illnesses, family, personal issues…
  • Often negative;
  • Behind the back,
  • Unverified information

As concequence there are many outcomes, such as:

  • The destruction of a reputation;
  • Bad working environment;
  • Feeling of solitude,
  • Wastre of time,
  • Depression

So as a team leader, what do you do to prevent office gossip?

The surprising conclusion from a number of psychological experts is that you can’t, and that you might be better off not even trying. Now, before you dismiss this notion, consider the reason researchers believe gossip exists in the first place. Gossip, evolutionary psychologists argue, serves an important function. It provides people with valuable information on how to behave and helps them navigate the world more effectively. Say I hear a rumor that one of my associates, Cheryl, got dressed down by a client this morning for being unprepared. How does that affect my behavior? Well, first, it informs my approach to dealing with Cheryl on our afternoon conference call. Perhaps I’m a little nicer to her before we launch into our weekly update and offer her some encouraging feedback after she presents her portion. When discussing upcoming projects I also might think twice before agreeing to let Cheryl take the lead. The gossip circulating about Cheryl doesn’t do her any good, but it does make me a little better prepared for doing my job. Score one for gossip.

This is definitelly something almost impossible to eliminat for any workplace environment, but with a savvy leadership you can at least discourage employee gossip from sabotaging productivity. From my own experience here are my favourite 5 suggestions:

  1. Encourage workers to be open, creative and to respectfully speak the truth, especially in group settings.
  2. Realize, treasure and honor your greatest assets, your people.
  3. Do whatever possible to dissuade cliques from taking over.
  4. Communicate and take charge of rumors.
  5. Use power, influence and peer pressure to perpetuate self enforcement.

So then, Can gossip be something Positive? Yes. That could be indeed. It’s the behind-the scenes information you pass on to others, intended to boost someone’s credibility rather than tear it down. It’s mentioning the great job someone did to others when that person is not around.

Another benefit of gossip is: keeping people in line. As news of Cheryl’s misstep – in the example I’ve mentioned earlier – spreads throughout our division, it conveys a subtle warning: Beware, the gossip tells all of us. Arrive at meetings without doing your homework and your reputation will suffer a similar fate.

A 2012 study uncovered yet another way gossip is beneficial: People are less likely to cheat when there’s a possibility others will gossip about their actions. Gossip appears to foster prosocial behavior. When we’re concerned that others will find out what we’ve done, we’re less likely to act selfishly and more likely to behave in a cooperative fashion. When you consider all the value gossip brings, it’s no wonder it plays such a pivotal role in our lives. According to discourse analysts, nearly 2/3 of conversations contain some elements of gossip. It often goes undetected because we don’t all gossip about the same things. On average, men tend to gossip more about high-powered authority figures who include political figures,athletes, and celebrities. Women, on the other hand, spend more time gossiping about family members and dose friends.

We gossip, according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, because in the past our lives depended on it. Back when our ancestors lived in small groups, they were able to monitor one another’s behaviors firsthand. But as group sizes expanded, direct observation was not always feasible. For a while, living a large group was risky, because you didn’t know who to trust. Eventually language entered the picture, and suddenly people had a tool for tracking reputations. Now, if someone behaved unethically, everyone in the group would find out, and soon enough the perpetrator would be shunned. From Dunbar’s perspective, if we didn’t need to gossip we may never have learned how to talk.

Gossip is useful, which is why it often feels so rewarding. When Your coworker Mike tells you that his boss has been spending a lot of time with a particular intern, he implicitly shows that he trusts you and views you as someone worth inviting into an exclusive social circle. It’s a flattering experience. At the same time, Mike gets to demonstrate his moral superiority on the issue of romancing interns while simultaneously proving that he is “in the know.’ That brief exchange brings you and Mike a little closer and gives both of you a temporary bump in self-esteem. As much as we’d like to believe we’re above gossiping, the reality is that we’re all susceptible. It’s an inherent part of who we are. But just because we’re prone to doing certain behaviors doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good for business. The more employees gossip behind one another’s backs, the harder it is to build team camaraderie and sustain collaborations.

Some organizations try to root out gossip by outlining formal policies or having executives issue explicit warnings. It’s an approach that displays a basic misunderstanding of human nature.Asking employees to stop talking about one another is a little like warning  your kids never to yell. They can try their best, but eventually they’ll slip up, and when they do, it will only increase the distance between you. Ironically, your disapproval makes the transgression a little more exciting when it happens. The real question-the one that many organizations fail to address-is: What’s causing workplace gossip to crop up in the first place? We all enjoy a bit of gossip, but some of us participate in it more than others. How come? Research shows that teammates are particularly susceptible to gossip when they’re feeling powerless or insecure. The more people feel like they are out of the loop, the more they traffic in scraps of information.

Gossip in the workplace tends to be the weapon of the isolated and socially disenfranchised. When employees feel disconnected  from the broader organization, they resort to forming cliques, drawing some colleagues close by putting other colleagues down. Ironically, it is their need for connections that results in organization-defeating behaviors that ultimately erode a team’s trust. Instead of outlawing gossip, leaders would be better off listening carefully to it instead. People tend to gossip about issues that reflect real workplace concerns. A lack of transparency about important decisions, for example, can breed uncertainty and sow the seeds for organizational chatter. Promoting openness between colleagues and building an environment where people feel safe addressing their concerns reduces the desire for talking behind one another’s backs. Another thing leaders should listen for is the source of the gossip.

The more someone gossips, the more powerless he likely perceives himself to be, which is an issue that deserves genuine attention. There are also those who wield gossip as a weapon, strategically undermining others while attempting to elevate their own status in an organization. There’s a term for them in the literature: workplace terrorists. The reasons why workplace violece occurs can be many, just to have an idea here is a list of some

  • Work-relater conflict.
  • Personal conflict.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Robbery.
  • Revenge.
  • Displaced anger.
  • A stalker’s obsession.
  • Terrorism.
  • Customer/ client supplier/ Patient disgruntled

It’s important to identify strategic gossipers early, before they can inflict too much harm. The challenge, of course, is that when we’re handed a juicy piece of gossip, it’s easy to be seduced by the feeling that we’ve gained useful information from someone who is on our side which is why it’s important to consider the motivation behind disclosure. Is the speaker trying to help you, hurt a potential rival or both, attitudes toward gossip, like other social norms, are communicated from the top. Leaders have a disproportionate influence over many organizational behaviors, and gossiping is no exception.

If as a manager, you light up when given a piece of gossip, you’re likely  to have team members who do the same and strive to feed you information. And any manager who resorts to speculating with employees about their colleagues is not only undermining organizational trust,he is also damaging his own stature as a leader. Studies show that those who gossip the most are often viewed as the least powerful. How do strong leaders respond to workplace gossip? By listening. And then, by encouraging and modeling open communication. It’s one thing to hear about Cheryl’s unfortunate turn at that client meeting, it’s another to find Cheryl and see if you can help. True friendships can only emerge when there is an openness between colleagues. When teammates have enough confidence in one another to raise difficult topics, even when that means having a challenging conversation. It’s what makes workplace friendships so vital in the first place.When we see that we’re surrounded by people who care about us it’s a lot easier to stay on task.

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